Motorcycles are growing in popularity, especially as the cost of gas increases. But with the growing use of motorcycles comes the growing concern of their noise.
Not all motorcycles are noisy and most new motorcycles are built with federally mandated noise control standards. When a motorcycle is noisy it is due to the rider’s modification to the muffler tailpipe or an aftermarket exhaust system that is not street legal. Such modified exhaust systems can be heard and felt over a wide distance, rattling windows and traveling through walls. In the end, millions of people are adversely affected by this noise.
So if the motorcycles are so noisy, why do riders modify them? Mostly it is due to the fact that riders feel their sound will make them more heard by other motorists, which in turn will keep them safer. But this may be more a myth than truth. The American Motorcycle Association discourages cyclists in modifying their exhaust systems and have gone so far to create a creed that reads:
• All motorcyclists should be sensitive to community standards and respect the rights of fellow citizens to enjoy a peaceful environment.
• Motorcyclists should not modify exhaust systems in a way that will increase sound to an offensive level.
• Organizers of motorcycle events should take steps through advertising, peer pressure and enforcement to make excessively loud motorcycles unwelcome.
• Motorcycle retailers should discourage the installation and use of excessively loud replacement exhaust systems.
• The motorcycle industry, including aftermarket suppliers of replacement exhaust systems, should adopt responsible product design and marketing policies aimed at limiting the cumulative impact of excessive motorcycle noise.
• Manufacturers producing motorcycles to appropriate federal standards should continue to educate their dealers and customers that louder exhaust systems do not necessarily improve the performance of a motorcycle.
• Law enforcement agencies should fairly and consistently enforce appropriate laws and ordinances against excessive vehicle noise.
• The motorcycle industry and the safety community should educate customers that excessive noise may be fatiguing to riders, making them less able to enjoy riding and less able to exercise good riding skills.
To help combat noise problems, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets noise emissions standards for motorcycles. The standard for street-legal exhaust noise emissions is 80 dB(a). All motorcycles are required to display an EPA label on the chassis and exhaust pipe. The “label match-up” program was designed as regulatory measure for states and municipalities to control motorcycle noise.
Yet, the United States allow higher noise levels for motorcycles than in other regions and countries, notably Europe and Japan. In Australia, label match-up is also used in addition to annual inspections.
Affected residents are speaking up about the problem of motorcycle noise and lobbying their elected officials for better protection. There is increasing motorcycle restrictions on public lands, private roads and gated communities.
In California, police officers are forced to measure exhaust noise with a decibel meter using the dB(a) standard, which does not measure low frequency noise.
Citations are often challenged in court because the meters must be certified and calibrated for its readings to be used as evidence. In addition, police officers must be properly trained to use the expensive equipment. The result is that fewer riders are cited for noise violations.
Another enforcement measure is called ‘plainly audible standard’ that allows an officer to determine noise levels. In New York City, noise offenders can be cited if the motorcycle exhaust noise is plainly audible at 200 feet.
Because the problem has not been completely solved, residents of communities who have a larger than normal amount of motorcycle traffic are making efforts to help sound proof their homes. But in the meantime, maybe as motorcycle usage increases so will conscientiousness.