New Seattle noise ordinance targets mufflers – not engines or stereos

SEATTLE — A new effort to cut noise on Seattle’s most popular cruising streets is raising concerns about fair enforcement.

In response to complaints from residents primarily in the neighborhoods of Alki, Fauntleroy and Belltown, the City Council unanimously passed a new amendment to Chapter 25.08 of the Seattle Municipal Code that will allow Seattle police officers to instantly issue $136 tickets to the owners of loud vehicles – but only for excessive vehicle exhaust noise.

Since 1977, Seattle has had a noise ordinance, but it required noise meters to issue tickets – which made enforcement difficult, because the SPD doesn’t even have noise meters.

According to Gary Ireland, Public Disclosure and Communications advisor for Seattle Municipal Court, only one case has ever been filed under SMC 25.08.430, from 1993.

“It was very difficult for us to enforce the old version of the noise ordinance because we didn’t have the equipment to measure sound up to a certain decibel, which is how the law was written,” Seattle police Detective Patrick Michaud told KIRO 7 on Tuesday.

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So the new ordinance “amends current code to allow enforcement when vehicle exhaust noises (e.g. mufflers) ‘can be clearly heard by a person of normal hearing at a distance of 75 feet or more from the vehicle itself.’”

“The people that we’re looking at trying to enforce the law against are people who are cruising Alki at all hours of the night, back and forth, on their motorcycle with straight pipes or car that has modifications on it just to be loud,” Michaud said.

Michaud confirmed the new ordinance does not address excessive engine noise or loud music coming from a vehicle, “so that’s a very fine line that we have to walk when it comes to enforcement on this.”

For now, Michaud said SPD officers will issue warnings, not citations.

Meanwhile, some West Seattle residents are doubtful an ordinance that simply targets excessive exhaust noise will do much to protect residents on popular cruising streets, such as Alki Avenue Southwest. “I don’t think that it makes any sense really,” said Cory, who declined to share his last name. “Just the fact that it says exhaust noise, to me, that doesn’t make any sense.”

Rick Young and Yvette Murrell have concerns the new ordinance will allow officers to issue tickets at their own discretion, without any evidence.

Young is worried about “who’s out there patrolling at the time, and how are they feeling about who’s in the vehicles, and what they look like.”

Murrell added it’s an opportunity for police officers “to play race cards and target people of color who they feel may or may not” be welcome in the neighborhoods where residents have complained about excessive vehicle noise.

“I would contest it, I would fight it,” Murrell said, if she were issued such a citation. “There’s too much discretion in it, too much flexibility. The discernment is not clear and it can change from person to person.”