Kirkland enacting pilot program to crack down on illegal vehicle noise

Oct 20, 2022, 6:43 PM | Updated: 6:49 pm
(Photo by Sebastian Barros/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sebastian Barros/Getty Images)

After getting a whole host of complaints from residents tired of what may to some sound like “The Fast and the Furious” reenactments on their streets, the City of Kirkland is starting a unique pilot program to crack down on illegal street racing — and the noise associated with it.

The pilot project, which is the first of its kind in the state, will see cameras placed at two intersections to detect exceptionally loud cars. Kirkland Police Chief Cherie Harris said the cameras will function similarly to school zone cameras, except they will seek out sound, not speed.

“We have partnered with Cithaeron, a local company, to see if this innovative noise and camera technology can remotely capture incidents of excessively loud vehicles,” Harris said.

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Cithaeron CEO Sol Keiter explained that the cameras are “triggered by a set decibel threshold.”

The cameras will be placed at Central Way and Sixth Street in downtown Kirkland, and at Lake Washington Boulevard and Northeast 59th Street, just across from Houghton Beach Park. These are hotspots for street racing and exceptionally loud vehicles in Kirkland.

For now, the project is simply meant to test out how well the technology works; a driver who exceeds the cameras’ noise threshold will not find a ticket in their mailbox. License plates and other images that could potentially identify drivers will not be shared with the Kirkland Police Department.

“Currently, warnings are allowed — but we’re not currently issuing any warnings. Tickets are not allowed, infractions are not allowed,” Harris said.

Whether this pilot project could lead to a ticketing system down the road depends on lawmakers in Olympia.

“The Legislature would need to look at the data in the future and decide whether they want to pass a state law that would allow for automated noise enforcement,” Harris explained.

However, Harris noted that Kirkland officers are ticketing drivers who have illegally modified their cars’ exhaust systems — to the tune of more than 70 tickets this year alone. While police do have the authority to hand out tickets to drivers who are violating state vehicle noise laws, Harris said it is much easier to catch a driver for illegal exhaust modifications.

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The city is also taking a hard line on speeding, which Harris said tends to go hand-in-hand with noise pollution. A new school zone camera just went up outside Lakeview Elementary, and officers are conducting overtime patrols downtown, where street racing is especially problematic.

“The City Council has been receiving a lot of complaints, particularly over the last couple of years, about loud vehicle exhausts, and along with those complaints, we get complaints about high vehicle speeds and dangerous driving behaviors that are often associated with that,” said Kirkland City Councilmember Jon Pascal.

Pascal said the noise can be especially startling for residents, especially in the middle of the night — and the racing that tends to accompany the noise is dangerous in an area where families are walking between beaches, shops, and restaurants.

“Vehicle noise is a deterrent to happy living in Kirkland,” Harris said.

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Kirkland enacting pilot program to crack down on illegal vehicle noise