Tacoma moves to crack down on street racing. Violators face jail time, fines

TACOMA, Wash. — Tacoma is cracking down on illegal street racing and exhibitions.

Tacoma City Council moved Tuesday to place a law on the books prohibiting “exhibition of speed.”

According to the law, exhibitions of speed include “squealing tires of a motor vehicle while it is stationary or in motion, rapid acceleration, rapid swerving or weaving, drifting, producing smoke from tire slippage, or leaving visible tire acceleration marks on the surface of the highway or ground.”

Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, or both.

“In other counties, people have actually been killed by cars (that) get out of control, and so it is our paramount duty to be concerned and work toward the safety of everyone who lives in our community, and this is an opportunity to do that,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The ordinance also directed City Manager Elizabeth Pauli to collect data on enforcement of the law, including the city of residence of all individuals that receive a citation. Pauli is instructed to present the collected data no later than six months after the law is implemented to gauge whether the ordinance has been successful in reducing street exhibitions.

City Council will consider final reading of the ordinance on March 30. If passed, it will go into effect April 11.

The crackdown on street racing and exhibitions gained momentum after an incident on South 9th Street and Pacific Avenue on Jan. 23 drew 911 calls about multiple vehicles and about 100 people blocking the intersection. Police responded to the scene, and an officer drove through the crowd, running over at least one person and sending multiple people to the hospital.

The incident is currently under investigation by the Pierce County Force Investigation Team. As of March 19, investigators were requesting anyone who witnessed the incident or has video evidence to please contact the Puyallup Police Department tip line at 253-770-3343.

Currently, Tacoma police use “reckless endangerment,” “failure to disperse,” “obedience to police officers,” and “interference with free use of streets prohibited” laws to address speed exhibitions, but there are no specific laws related to unlawful exhibitions of speed.

Council members said the intent of the ordinance is to equip Tacoma police with better tools to enforce unlawful street exhibitions.

Tacoma, like other cities in the county, is no stranger to street exhibitions, said Council member Lillian Hunter at Tuesday’s meetings.

Street exhibitions are a problem in multiple areas around Tacoma, including downtown, at the Tacoma Mall, University of Puget Sound and Target area, said Hunter, who co-sponsored the ordinance along with Woodards and Council members Conor McCarthy and Robert Thoms.

“Street exhibitions, street racing are a regional issue,” Hunter said.

They’re on the rise across the region, according to local law enforcement. In Tacoma, 20 street-racing complaints were called in during January 2020. In January 2021, there have been 65 street-racing complaints, according to the Police Department.

Hunter and Woodards are members of a regional task force led by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier to address street racing and exhibitions from a regional approach. Representatives from neighboring jurisdictions, including Fife, Puyallup, Sumner, Lakewood, University Place, DuPont, Bonney Lake, Gig Harbor, Edgewood, Orting and Steilacoom, have participated in the meetings.

“We’re developing a strategy to curtail this dangerous activity across our municipalities, and part of which includes passing and developing similar ordinances so the people who engage in this dangerous activity understand that it’s not going to be allowed in the neighboring city,” Hunter said.

Other cities are passing their own laws. Fife City Council is passed an ordinance on Tuesday evening allowing authorities to impound the cars of drivers found racing or performing other “street exhibition” stunts like doing doughnuts, burnouts or drifting.

On Jan. 5, Puyallup City Council passed laws deeming Levee Road, Industrial Way and Valley Avenue as “no racing zones.”

Woodards and Hunter say the task force is also looking to identify an area where people who want to participate in street exhibitions can do so legally.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the ordinance would go into effect April 4 if passed. The correct date is April 11.

This story was originally published on The News Tribune.