Cutting car crime by giving kids as young as 10 race track spin
Two youth workers who live in a city often plagued by joyriding and anti-social behaviour have set up an innovative driving programme to help curb car crime.
Jim McKeever and Darren O'Reilly bring young people from across Londonderry to Cruise Centre, a driving range based on an old airport runway at Eglinton, where they can race cars and learn the art of 'drifting' in a controlled, safe environment.
Children from the age of 10 can race small cars round a track with a skilled instructor in the passenger seat guiding them.
It is hoped the teens will be inspired by the likes of young Tyrone drifting champion Ryan Caldwell who, at the age of 15, has been competing professionally for three years and making a major mark in world drifting circles.
Kids are encouraged to embrace drifting - a technique where the driver intentionally over-steers, with loss of traction in the rear wheels, while maintaining control - and are taught driving safety techniques.
The youth workers, who are both councillors on Derry City and Strabane District Council, believe the initiative will help to curb car crime, which is becoming a massive problem in the city.
"A lot of the young people here, aged between 13 and 16, have a fascination with cars," said Mr O'Reilly, a youth worker in the Rosemount area.
"Some of them do choose to get involved in buying cars and driving them without licences and without insurance.
"We want to get them involved in a project that shows them the dangers of partaking in that type of behaviour, but putting a positive spin on it, allowing them to come out here, with restrictions, within safety rules, with procedures and instructors.
"It shows them the right ways to do things. It also gets them off the streets and shows them that on this track you can do things like drifting at an early age and you don't have to get involved in that other activity within the community."
Mr O'Reilly said there had been a massive increase in car-related crime in recent times.
"As a councillor I am dealing with multiple cases per week," he explained.
"In one week we had six incidents - that's almost one a day.
"We have cars hijacked, cars bought cheaply, cars stolen in creeper burglaries.
"It's a familiar sight to see them burnt out at the side of the road.
"If we can get people at an early age and get them involved in a sport where it is regulated, hopefully that will curb them getting involved in car crime in the future.
"It's about promoting the sport, it's getting them involved in tracks, getting involved in the shows, it's not just about coming out here and driving around.
"It's about being part of a community, being part of a club and trying to engage them through that."
Mr McKeever, who set up the Cruise Centre project with his foster son, says the initiative not only engages with young people interested in cars, but can also get them back on track with regards to education.
"This specific bit of the project we are calling transition," he said.
"Transition in drifting terms is when the car is changing from one corner to the other - the bit in between when the car is changing direction is called transition.
"In dictionary terms, it is about changing from one place or thing to another.
"And this reflects the young people changing away from negative stuff to something more positive, from not being in education to going back to school."
Mr McKeever said those behind the project were trying to persuade young people to keep their racing to somewhere that is safe.
"We are trying to teach the kids that racing is okay within a controlled environment, where there are marshals to look after you and where there is safety equipment," he explained.
"We try and get it through to young people, in talks, who think they can drive out in a road in a car that they have bought for cheap or that they have stolen, that there is no one there if something goes wrong, that no one could get them out if they are trapped in the car, that they can kill someone.
"Our instructors give them talks on this as they are explaining all the safety equipment, the fireproof boilersuits, the harnesses, and the reasons for them and the helmets."
He is realistic about their attempts to tackle the city's car crime problem.
"We will never curb car crime in Derry 100%," Mr McKeever added.
"But the more people we can get to engage and see that they can come and do the driving somewhere controlled, and that there will be an outcome for them... that there is an outcome and they are part of a long-term scheme where they learn how to build the cars and trikes, learn to maintain them and progress onto the cars."
For more information on the Cruise Centre project log on to their Facebook page 'Cruise Centre Drive From Age 10'.