Kent Police aim to slow street racers with new technology

Agency hopes to be part of state’s pilot program that catches loud vehicles

Kent Police hope to be part of a pilot program by the state to deter illegal street racing with a new technology that combines sound measurement and video to catch vehicles with excessively loud exhaust noise.

The state Legislature recently approved for the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission to oversee a pilot program and select the participating law enforcement agencies, said Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla in a Monday email.

“We are very pleased that we were able to get support from our state legislators and the governor,” Padilla said. “It gives Washington law enforcement an opportunity to address the issue of illegal street racing in a new and innovative way. We hope to learn a lot from the pilot to include confirming the viability of a potential new instrument for law enforcement.”

For more than three decades, hundreds of street racers have shown up in the north Kent industrial area on nice weekends – mainly in the spring and summer – to illegally race.

The Kent City Council listed the street racing pilot program as one of its top-five priorities this year for lobbying legislators in Olympia.

The new program utilizes technology to automatically issue tickets for vehicles with illegal (loud) exhaust systems to deter racing. The device reportedly measures noise that triggers a camera to capture the vehicle’s license plate, similar to red-light cameras and school zone traffic cameras that catch speeding drivers.

“We have already reached out to them to re-affirm our desire to be one of the pilot agencies,” Padilla said about the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

Padilla said he didn’t have information yet about the program’s cost or a potential startup date. Fines for violations also need to be determined. Washington Traffic Safety Commission officials have not yet responded to an email for more details about the pilot project.

“The hope is that the (state) funding provided to conduct the pilot will be sufficient to pay for most if not all costs, but that remains to be determined,” Padilla said.

Seattle-based Cithaeron formed in 2016 to develop the technology, according to its website.

“Cithaeron’s patent-pending technology uses a device to remotely capture excess decibel noise violations from modified vehicle exhaust systems or aftermarket motorcycle pipes,” according to the company. “Think ‘red-light camera’ but for noise. We then present a queue of potential violations via web app to a city agent (typically a police officer) who reviews the violation and approves the citation, which is then routed to the noise offender for payment.”

Kent Police have tried major crackdowns with numerous arrests, even using a Washington State Patrol Cessna fixed-wing aircraft during one large bust to help spot the street racers gathering at a empty private lot behind a couple of warehouses. But the department found it couldn’t stop the popular late-night racing with multiple arrests.

Other steps by police included rumble strips, signs that posted a Stay Out of Areas of Racing (SOAR) city ordinance and even an attempt to get the racers to go up to Pacific Raceways just east of Kent to drag race. Racers, however, prefer using the north Kent industrial streets that are empty at night. They also have moved up to East Hill streets.

State law (RCW 46.37.390) requires that all vehicles be outfitted with a muffler/exhaust system and prohibits vehicle owners from installing muffler/exhaust systems that produce noise louder than that produced from the muffler that was installed by the vehicle manufacturer.

A good percentage of illegal street racers install very loud noise polluting exhaust systems on their cars to enhance performance, Padilla said in a Kent Reporter article in January.

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