TEENAGE boy racers are turning the main street of a market town into a late-night race track.

According to Chester-le-Street residents, youths are driving round the town centre in "hot hatchbacks" - a practice they say will lead to someone getting killed or seriously injured.

When Front Street shops close for the night, gangs of youths are using the road as a rat run, driving at speed through the thoroughfare.

As well as road safety fears, the peace and quiet of nearby streets are being shattered by the same groups loitering in public and private car parks.

Police are getting tough, saying they will use legislation designed to combat this street menace.

Gail Hann, who works in Front Street, said she takes her life into her hands every time she leaves the building to go home.

She said: "I usually leave work at about 8.30pm and I'm immediately confronted with kids racing along the street in their cars.

"I am not a victim who constantly fears being mugged or attacked, but I do fear for my safety when I see these boy racers.

"It will take just a split second for one of these idiots to lose control of their machines and flatten someone.

"They drive around wearing their baseball caps, with loud blaring stereos, like they own the place. It's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt by them."

It's not just town centre business people who feel threatened by the boy racers - nearby residents say they congregate in car parks before driving along Front Street.

One woman who lives in Cone Terrace, next to a car park frequently used by teenage motorists, said: "Almost every night they park here and have their stereos on really loud - most nights we have to turn our tellies up to drown out the racket."

Three years ago the town had a similar problem with boy racers terrorising the streets and the local car parks, so the police worked with the town's district council to draw up the Chester-le-Street (off-street parking places) Order 1999.

This makes it an offence to do any of the following:

l To use a car park for taking part in any games, including racing.

l To wantonly shout or make loud noises to the annoyance of residents.

l To play recorded music to the annoyance of residents.

l To use threatening, abusive or insulting language.

l To sound the horn to the annoyance of residents.

l To start an engine except when leaving or entering a car park.

Insp Dave Marshall of Chester-le-Street Police added: "We got rid of the problem last time, but it is obviously occurring again.

"We would simply ask people to tell us when they see this."