A trio of state lawmakers are pushing a pair of bills to crack down on drag racing and the noisy exhaust pipes of souped-up cars and dirt bikes after communities plagued by the illegal street racing cite impact on physical and mental health.
Between April 2020 and May 2021, New Yorkers made 2930 complaints of illegal street racing to 311. That’s more than five times the calls that were made during the same time period the year prior. At the same time, the city recorded 243 deaths from traffic crashes in 2020 – the most since the start of Vision Zero in 2014. In April 2021 alone, 70 people were killed in traffic crashes. As the weather warms, and New Yorkers spend more time outdoors, that number could climb even higher in the summer months.
“One of the top complaints we hear as senators every day is the near constant racing and loud vehicles ripping through our neighborhoods,” State Sen. Brad Hoylman said at a press conference Thursday morning from the intersection of Dyckman Street and Sherman Avenue in Inwood, which has become a popular location for racing.
Hoylman was joined by State Sens. Robert Jackson and Andrew Gounardes to introduce his legislation, the FURIOUS Act, a reference to the popular Fast & Furious movie franchise, which would authorize the city to operate its speed camera program during nights and on weekends in areas that have been proven as typical spots for illegal street racing. The bill would also change the state’s laws on races, as the standing legal precedent makes it difficult to prosecute racers if they did not pre-plan a race course.
Additionally, the senators advocated for legislation authored by Gournades, who represents Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, called the SLEEP Act, which would set a 95 decibel limit for motorcycle exhaust and mufflers or 60 decibels for car mufflers and exhaust systems. In the bill, Guornades is pushing for police vehicles to be equipped with a decibel reader and to increase the maximum fine for loud exhaust pipes – the sound of which the senator can be mistaken for a gunshot – from $125 to $1,000.
The senators hope to pass both acts before the end of the June session. “We are here to advocate for the passage of two common sense bills that would help put an end to the dangerous and obnoxious street racing that has plagued our community,” said Hoylman. “Illegal street racing puts all of our lives have risks and keeps us up at night. With new traffic patterns during the pandemic, some drivers have used this as an opportunity to treat our streets as if they’re at a NASCAR speedway, but this can’t be our new normal.”
Upper East Side residents will welcome the legislation, as videos in recent months have circulated online of dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) speeding down sidewalks and avenues.
Residents of Upper Manhattan have found it particularly difficult to cope with the constant anxiety and stress the noise from the drag racing has created in the neighborhood.
“Last year, when we were all struggling in our communities with some of the highest COVID rates of all with Manhattan, and in the city, we were also struggling with this excessive noise,” said Tanya Bonner, a founder of Washington Heights and Inwood for Respectful Decibel Levels. “We were suffering from the trifecta, as we say, we had the dirt bikes, the fireworks and the street racing.”
Bonner said her own personal health suffered last summer when the noise hit a peak.
“I suffer from diabetes too, and by August, my [blood sugar] numbers were up to 250,” she said.
City Council candidate for District 10, Johanna Garcia, who also serves as Jackson’s chief of staff, said she hoped this legislation would bring much needed peace to these affected neighborhoods. She also pointed out that the speed cameras provided a non-confrontational way to identify those who break the law through street racing, which she said is important as elected officials continue to reckon with reforming the criminal justice system and NYPD specifically. She urged residents to push the mayor and city officials to also take action.
“The state legislators are doing something about it, but we also need to put pressure on the city elected, especially the mayor’s office, to step up and really do something about it,” said Garcia. “We cannot send a message that we’re complacent with this because our lives are at stake physically and in regards to mental health.”
“With new traffic patterns during the pandemic, some drivers have used this as an opportunity to treat our streets as if they’re at a NASCAR speedway, but this can’t be our new normal.” State Sen. Brad Hoylman