Aug 1, 2023 - News

Seattle moves toward installing cameras to catch drag racers

Illustration of a security camera topped with police car lights

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A recent vote by the Seattle City Council sets the stage for traffic cameras to start automatically ticketing people who illegally race cars on 10 Seattle roadways.

Yes, but: The city Transportation Department has to complete several steps — including a detailed equity analysis — before installing the cameras, meaning street racers likely won't be getting automatically ticketed for some time.

Why it matters: Supporters of authorizing the cameras say high-speed racing has generated complaints in many Seattle neighborhoods, while posing a risk of death and injury to drivers and pedestrians alike.

Plus: Violent confrontations can sometimes erupt during illegal street racing events, like when four people were shot — one fatally — in Capitol Hill last month.

What they're saying: "These racers are not simply speeding," Councilmember Lisa Herbold said at a council meeting last week.

  • "They are going upwards of 70 miles per hour" — and sometimes 100 miles per hour — on streets where the speed limits are generally 25 to 30 miles per hour, she said.

Details: The legislation, which the council approved 8-1 last week, designates 10 stretches of Seattle roads as zones that could later be policed using automatic traffic cameras.

  • The anti-racing enforcement zones include areas near Alki Beach; by Magnuson Park; by Golden Gardens Park; and along parts of Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. and Rainier Avenue S.

Of note: The area where the July 23 shooting occurred isn't among those that would be designated as a zone for future cameras to catch street racing.

The other side: Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the lone no vote on the legislation.

  • "The expansive use of speeding tickets is a punitive approach to traffic safety that is disproportionately punishing to poor and working class drivers," Sawant said.

What's next: SDOT is expected to come up with an implementation plan for future cameras. City officials would then need to approve money in the budget to actually install them.

  • As part of that process, SDOT is expected to analyze ways to reduce "the disproportionate impacts of fines and focus on highest-risk behavior," per the legislation.
  • That likely will involve discussing whether the cameras should only ticket people for excessively high speeds versus any driving over the speed limit, Herbold said.

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