‘Lawlessness’: 9 Investigates a rise in reckless driving on Charlotte streets

CHARLOTTE — Running red lights, speeding and weaving through traffic -- reckless driving in Charlotte is on the rise.

If you think driving in Charlotte feels like the Wild West, you’re not alone.

“We absolutely feel it, said Mark Ezzell, the director of North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “And we absolutely see it. In fact when I speak with my colleagues nationally, in other states they’re seeing it.”

From the street racing and stunt driving that Channel 9 has reported on in Steele Creek and SouthPark, to deadly speed-related crashes like one that closed Arrowood Road at Interstate 77 on Nov. 4, it seems like things are reaching a boiling point.

“We feel like we’re seeing so much lawlessness on our roads,” Ezzell said.

“We are essentially driving a weapon that can do real damage,” said Angela Berry with the Charlotte Department of Transportation. “And by real damage, I mean, these people have names and faces and families and loved ones who will miss them, just like that.”

Ronnie Byrd is one of those faces. He was hit and killed by a vehicle as he crossed Tom Hunter Road at North Tryon Street last year. His mother said the driver took off and was caught over a month later.

“It just took a lot out of me because I felt like, you know, he was there on North Tryon and he just died alone in the street,” Lavardslyn Byrd said.

He was just 32 years old -- a father, a brother, a son.

“He was just a good person trying to make it,” Lavardslyn Byrd said.

COVID has been mostly to blame for the “free for all” because there were fewer vehicles to share the roads with. But two years past the pandemic’s prime, and with traffic volumes almost back to normal, too many people are still being killed because of reckless driving.

“The actual statistics show that it is getting better,” Ezzell said. “But it’s still not where it needs to be or where it was pre-pandemic.”

CDOT says one death is too many. They have a plan to eliminate them within the next eight years.

“So Vision Zero is an idea that we can reduce fatal and serious injury crashes to zero,” Berry said.

The idea is a big one. And there are a lot moving parts that include everything, including designing and building safer roads with better maintenance, street light upgrades, pedestrian crossings improvements and speed limit reduction and enforcement.

But no amount of planning or enforcement will work by itself. We must look out for each other while behind the wheel.

“I just felt like I needed to tell his story,” Lavardslyn Byrd said. “I needed people to know that (cut out these laws and) these deaths by vehicles is senseless.

VIDEO: 9 Investigates: Drivers ignoring red lights at intersections

Drivers blowing through red lights is a problem that is getting worse in Charlotte.

“Everybody needs to be almost a stakeholder in the safety of driving cars in intersections,” said Justin Kupfer, a detective with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Major Crash Investigation Unit.

Officers issued more than 1,200 citations in 2021 for drivers who didn’t stop at red lights.

“We have always seen red-light running issues because people are trying to beat the light,” Kupfer said.

Officers will post at busy intersections issuing tickets to drivers to help reduce the chance of crashes. Areas include Beatties Ford Road and Interstate 85 interchange and along The Plaza.

Motorist Eddie Edwards spends nearly 30 hours a week driving for Uber.

“Some of them are really polite and some of them have no idea how to really drive,” Edwards said about other drivers.

Edwards said he has problems with aggressive drivers.

“People don’t want to spend the extra three to four minutes that they’re going to have to wait to stop at the intersection,” Edwards said.

Data shows 81 people were killed in crashes in the first half of 2022 in Mecklenburg County.

Edwards said he wants to see more of a crackdown in Charlotte.

“It’s become lawless in Charlotte,” Edwards said. “They can drive any way they want.”

VIDEO: 9 Investigates: Drivers ignoring red lights at intersections