Spring is finally here and thoughts of a fine, sunny, hot, summer, follow in its wake. The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, people are out and about after a long, odd, gray winter and the smell of barbequing is in the air. There’s an annual irritant that seems to coincide, perfectly, with the first signs of spring, and it’s not mosquitoes; I am talking about something more pernicious and annoying: loud motorcycles, (some cars, and trucks can be just as annoying).
This is an irritant which falls mostly under the radar since defining noise is often deemed subjective. Police and bylaw officers are mostly ill equipped to make definitive rulings on such matters. Although, people, who, when asked, would agree that the sound of a motorbike roaring by is indeed annoying and unacceptable, grin and bear it, assuming that motorbikes are exempt from rules which govern other vehicles since loud bikes have been the norm for decades.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. I would like this short article to act as a primer to uninformed residence, that they don’t have to abrogate their right to living in a reasonably quiet environment either in their home or even walking down Christina St. or London Rd. after which they may be more prone to complain to the appropriate authorities for redress.
Citizens are slowly mobilizing to fight against loud motorcycles. In recent years, cities across Canada have started their own campaigns to put an end to “loud pipes,” which are the illegal replacement of manufacturer’s exhaust systems which are legally required on all vehicles, with after market pipes meant to enhance noise and supposedly improve performance. Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Bathurst, Saint John, St. John’s, and Kelowna have all taken action in the fight against loud motorcycles. Quebec City has gone so far as to ban motorcycles outright from the Old City.
Our province’s noise bylaws are very clear on the matter. To wit: “No person shall operate a motor vehicle or motor assisted bicycle equipped with a muffler cut-out, straight exhaust, gutted muffler, Hollywood muffler, by-pass, or similar device. No person shall modify a muffler to increase the sound output of a motor vehicle or motor assisted bicycle.” The preamble to the Sarnia bylaw begins by saying: “AND WHEREAS it is recognized that people have a right to and should be provided, to the extent possible, an environment free from unusual, unnecessary, or excessive noise which may unreasonably degrade the quality and tranquility of their life or cause nuisance.”
One would think this alone would end the matter; the fact is that overworked police forces will only take an issue seriously if there is a critical mass of complaints. Spotting illegal pipes should be a simple business but to be upheld in court it demands a higher burden of proof and, again, defining noise can be a subject matter. New noise measuring devices are being tested in many jurisdictions and hopefully a reliable standard, like the breathalyser, will emerge. A few years ago Edmonton passed a bylaw setting motorcycle noise limits of idling at less than 92 dB (decibels) or cruising below 96 dB. Offending bikers got slapped with a $250 ticket by police using noise-metre kits in their enforcement.
It is important to remember that continuous sound of 85 decibels or higher is considered hazardous and can cause long-term hearing loss. That’s about as loud as a gas lawn mower. Motorcycles with straight pipes, go far beyond that. Each increase of 6 decibels doubles the noise level and noise above 130 decibels, which many bikes are tested at, causes pain.
Of course, loud bike enthusiasts have their own arguments as to why they should not have to abide by existing laws. They fall mainly into two categories, that “loud pipes save lives,” and that it is their right to drive loud bikes.
On the first point, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US (NHTSA) analyzes and reports on motorcycle accident data statistics and acts as a clearinghouse on motorcycle safety. In their 2007 published report, ‘Fatal Two-Vehicle Motorcycle Crashes’ (DOT HS 810 834), motorcyclists were found to be overwhelmingly responsible for causing accidents with passenger vehicles. Motorcycles are also equipped with horns, just like passenger vehicles and the best defence against accidents is to wear bright clothing.
On the second point driving any sort of vehicle is a privilege not a right. Public streets and motorways are not race tracks or anyone’s playpens to do as they please. In a civilized, democratic, society, to live harmoniously, we must follow the rule of law. Riding a motorcycle is a wonderful, enjoyable way to get around, but disturbing others while doing so is just boorish.
For a city council that has historically done so much handwringing when a few citizens complain about the occasional outdoor concert being too loud for too long one would think that the more annoying, persistence of loud bikes would be a no brainer to address if a few more citizens were to call city hall.