City of Kent proposes bill to state legislators to address illegal street racing

Illegal street racing has become a growing problem in several communities in Washington. The City of Kent hopes its bill to the State Senate can address the public safety issue.

Washington’s current law on street racing is only defined as two people competing for speed. However, illegal street racing is no longer a competition for speed, but rather who can pull off dangerous stunts behind the wheel.

"It's absolutely 100% a public safety concern. So, we’re concerned for the drivers of the vehicles, but we’re also concerned for the bystanders. We have seen people that have been killed at these illegal street races because they’ve been hit by a car," said City of Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. "It’s affecting a lot of communities and we’ve got to figure out what is a deterrent? How do we stop this?"

The mayor said illegal racers, and the hundreds of spectators drawn to them, were blocking more and more streets across the city to burn rubber.

"They’re doing new stunts with the cars that they see being performed by professionals. So, they’re drifting. And they’re drifting in places that aren’t designed for that type of stunt, reckless driving," said Kent Police Assistant Chief Jarod Kasner.

City leaders said the reckless driving puts a greater risk on the people inside and outside of the cars.

"If you have 100 cars at a street race, there is no way that our officers can stop all of those vehicles. And if it’s a ticket, pay the ticket and that’s the cost of doing the race and you go on your way," said Ralph.

"We know we can’t arrest our way out of it, but there has to be some sort of accountability or impact to deter this type of behavior," said Kasner.

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Leaders in Kent said they hope a change in Washington state law is the answer.

"The current laws and what the bill addresses, hopefully, will be redefining these new behaviors that are taking place," said Kasner.

The city’s bill to the Senate suggests a car be impounded for 72 hours for the first offense of illegal street racing.

"What we’re finding now is we’re seeing the same cars back Friday night, Saturday night, Tuesday night. So, the impoundment would help put a little pause in there," said Ralph.

If there were a second offense, the proposal would require a forfeit of the car after a conviction. Along with holding illegal street racers accountable, the bill also calls out the promoters and organizers of the events. The bill stated any person who knowingly aids and abets racing may be charged and prosecuted as an accomplice.

"That is what is drawing the larger crowds. It used to be very much word of mouth. And then everybody got a cellphone and now it’s just let me check Snapchat and that’s happening. So, we are working. We do believe that the organizers have a culpability in all of this and that something needs to be done on that front as well," said Ralph.

City leaders said they hope the Senate will host a hearing on the proposal in the next few weeks. Officials believe if it’s approved, it could make a difference in other communities dealing with the hazardous trend.

"Traditional enforcement and arrests aren’t making an impact and how we have to transition and come up with new strategies. And so we would request that the senate does hold a hearing so that we can just have that conversation and really share our inside as well as our experience. We’d come together as community to reach a solution," said Kasner.