EXCLUSIVE: County and state officials seek to curb noisy cars in local neighborhoods

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On a quiet residential street near Arlington Blvd, cars can be heard accelerating around the bend, with their spare exhaust making a loud “roar”.

Meanwhile, near Columbia Pike, the cars speed up and do a drag race on S. Columbus Street near Wakefield High School.

“I’m eight stories up – not street level, so to speak – so maybe you’d expect the noise to dissipate,” Betsy Thomassen told ARLnow. “It’s Wednesday, and it’s happened five to six times… it’s just incredibly loud and annoying. In my condo, my furniture sometimes vibrates. It’s really unbelievable.

According to residents who spoke to ARLnow, and who posted on social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor, there has been an increase in the number of modified cars speeding through neighborhoods. Some residents say the hike is particularly bad along the Columbia Pike corridor and in the Clarendon area, as well as along the highways that crisscross the county.

“Anywhere there’s a hallway, you’ve got high-performance cars,” said David Cheek, president of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association, who even compiled a video, below, of modified cars roaring around his neighborhood. “It’s really rude to accelerate in a crowded area, in a noisy car, but there is a ‘do what you want’ mentality.”

After nearly a year of receiving more complaints than usual, the county council is preparing to take a number of measures to reduce noise in Arlington and put noise caps on cars and motorcycles, according to board member Takis Karantonis.

One avenue that members pursue is through the state legislature. The Council aims to have something on its legislative agenda for the next regular session in January, Karantonis said. They are also looking to train police officers to engage in conversations with drivers and get them to change their attitude.

“I think the county council as a whole is interested in a way to tax and deter extremely noisy car traffic in Arlington, especially in neighborhoods,” he said.

Diagnose the problem

Many particularly loud cars use aftermarket exhaust systems designed for racing, Cheek said. He theorizes that with more free time during the pandemic, more and more people became interested in car modifications.

There is a whole sophisticated industry around these mufflers, but there is very little regulation, Karantonis said, adding that he understands that modified cars sell like hot cakes at car and touring shows.

A reader told ARLnow that the new noise isn’t always associated with higher speeds.

“They often feel like they’re speeding up as well, but I’ve seen several that are loud but don’t seem to be speeding up,” one said. “I suspect that is the nature of the modifications.”

As a car and motorcycle enthusiast, Cheek said he understood the value of modifying a vehicle and wanted to take advantage of it.

“I feel for them,” he said. “But they have to understand that there are a lot of people who are upset about this – at Columbia Pike and Clarendon – and that it’s not fair to everyone.”

He added that noise pollution “isn’t just annoying – it impacts your mental health and it actually affects your life.”

Considering the legislation

Karantonis said there were a few avenues on the table, from passing legislation to training drivers.

Legislative action will be somewhat tricky, in part because a new state law came into effect in March that prohibits police officers from triggering a traffic stop for, among other things, loud silencers. The code still allows drivers to receive a noise ticket if they have been pulled over for an offense such as speeding.

The law, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), was adopted to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops, as some police officers have historically used pretext reasons – like a noisy car or expired labels – to stop residents and search their cars.

Locally, a police reform group found that reducing roadside checks would likely reduce the number of negative conflicts between police and people of color in Arlington, and as a result, the county is installing more traffic cameras to enforce driving laws without creating potentially dangerous police encounters.

“We are asking our lawmakers for advice and guidance to clarify what our goal is and what are some of the unwanted consequences of removing the application entirely, as is the case today,” Karantonis said. “You will see something about this with the Council’s legislative program at some point in November, early December, but we have to find the best and most efficient way to amend it, so that our forces of the order here have something to work with that is efficient without the drawbacks of having traffic stops that are biased.

Hope tells ARLnow that he is open to changing the law, in order to strike the right balance between necessary law enforcement and the elimination of “pretext” traffic stops.

“We need to understand if this is speed related, who needs to be applied, or if it’s an emission issue, and see if we need to make an amendment to the law,” he said. declared.

Hope said he has asked voters to report where and when they hear exhaustion, to see if there is a slight increase after the law is passed.

“Because I asked for complaints to come to my office, I’ve heard a lot more about it, mostly around I-66 and Route 50, and people seem to think that the excess speed is involved, ”he said.

For Cheek, speed is a major concern. He said the noise was often accompanied by higher speeds and an aggressive driving style in residential areas, which made his neighbors feel unsafe when their children were playing outside.

“You can hear people driving 100 miles on Route 50, you can hear people full blast on Wilson Blvd,” he said. “It’s a matter of safety for families and pedestrians. My priority is safety.

A possible amendment that would allow some sort of enforcement is good news for Thomassen. She said after taking neighbors’ temperatures in in-person and online conversations, she sent notes to county council and contacted Del. Hope, but hadn’t gotten many answers.

“Wherever we go, we are stranded,” she said.

Find other solutions

Legislation alone will not solve the problem, according to Karantonis.

“Civic persuasion and soft measures will also need to be in place,” he said.

He noted that in Canada, a trained specialist works with the police department so that if the police come into contact with the driver of a modified car, they can try to persuade him to change his attitude. In sister city Arlington in Germany, Karantonis said he watched a specialized police patrol arbitrarily stop cars, asking drivers to follow officers to a noise measurement unit, where the car’s noise levels were are measured and a ticket could be issued.

“It’s very complicated,” admitted Karantonis, suggesting that the auto modification industry will find a way around even this solution.

Here in Arlington, Hope said complaints along I-66 and Route 50 could be higher because there is a shortage of state police to enforce speeding tickets. But the current special session, which allocates more funds to state police, could “go a long way” toward hiring more MPs to patrol I-66 and other roads to stop the excesses. of speed.

In France, meanwhile, there are “noise cameras” that immediately track and ticket people with noisy vehicles on city streets.

Karantonis said the county is also considering measuring noise levels along arteries and roads in general, the way pollution, air quality and traffic are measured. At this time, there is no proposal for any type of automated noise application.

“In Arlington, some neighborhoods are under constant noise stress, living close to I-66, I-395,” he said. “We are working with the staff to determine if it makes sense to do this. “



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