Loud Mufflers and Music

Let’s have a show of hands: who among those reading are annoyed by loud cars or motorcycles, or a driver who is playing horribly loud music?  A few days ago I was passed by a motorcycle that must have had something done to its muffler to make it louder.  My ears are still ringing!

Something must be done.  But wait – something has already been done!  Well, in theory.  Here in California there is a law against having a car or motorcycle that has an obnoxiously-loud muffler.  For cars the limit is 95 decibels, and for late-model motorcycles the limit is 80 decibels.  And for any music blaring out of someone’s radio, if it is heard 50 feet away, then the police can give a citation. There are probably similar laws in other states (you can probably find the law in your state by checking your sate’s DMV website).

And what is a decibel?  According to everywhere I have looked, here are some typical decibel readings: normal conversation is 60 decibels, a dishwasher is 75 decibels, a train whistle is 90 decibels, a car horn or rock concert is 120 decibels, and ear-pain begins at 125 decibels.

So you would think that with these laws on the books, the problem of extra-loud cars and motorcycles would not exist, right?  Wrong.  I have been an attorney practicing law in California for over 20 years, and I have only come across one loud exhaust case.  The case involved the exhaust from a car owned by a teen kid who must have failed the personality test with flying colors.  Mr. Attitude.  The case against him was weak because while the officer used a decibel-meter, there is no indication that it was ever calibrated.

And that is the problem with loud exhaust cases.  Any time a machine is used to show the results of anything, there also has to be evidence that the machine had recently been calibrated by a certified agency with a calibration license.  This normally comes up in drunk driving cases, where a breath test machine result is reported, but only after the evidence shows that the machine was calibrated.  This is called foundational evidence.

With a decibel-meter, there is no such calibration.  A police officer can use a decibel-meter and issue all the citations he or she wants, but if the officer cannot show that the decibel-meter had been calibrated, the case will be dismissed.

As for loud music cases, I haven’t seen any, but I would bet that police officers feel uncomfortable issuing loud music citations because the law is vague.  What if an officer is 50 feet away from a car and hearing loud music, but the officer doesn’t know which car is playing the loud music?  Traffic officers like dealing with certainties, and this might cause them to give fewer tickets for loud music.

But they should.  I don’t listen to rap music voluntarily, but it seems as if all you have to do is open your car window in a traffic jam and you can hear rap music as loud as if you played it in your own car.

And have you noticed that it is never country-western music or symphony music?  Always rap, and usually with a hard base.  And sometimes you can hear the strangest sexual lyrics in the rap music in a traffic jam.

So here is what I propose: states should develop a calibration program for decibel-meters.  And if an officer doesn’t have a decibel-meter handy, they should be trained to testify that the exhaust was so loud that it caused pain (125 decibels), was louder than a car horn (110 decibels), or some other comparison.  Decibel measurements are loosely-based on informal hearing experiences anyway.

As for loud music cases, laws need to be changed to allow citations for hearing music less than 50 feet, or maybe allowing a citation if the base from someone’s music causes vibrations outside the car.  Also, traffic officers need to be trained to enforce loud music cases so that they are more comfortable with the issue.  I would argue that an extra fine should be imposed for loud music with sexual lyrics, but I know that will never pass.

Or what about a private organization to lobby states to enact tougher loud exhaust and loud music laws?  Something like “Mothers Against Loud Drivers”?  Hey, you never know if someday there will be a car playing music so loud that other drivers cannot hear a siren from an ambulance or fire truck, and an accident happens.

Or what about making some of these laws misdemeanors with jail consequences?  Or have a loud exhaust or music ticket add to a driver’s license “point count,” so that after a certain number of points, the driver could actually lose his driver’s license?

But something enforceable has to be done about all this.  Just like how drunk driving went from being an occasional annoyance to an offense that is taken seriously, loud exhaust or music driving also need to be treated seriously.  With some of these suggestions, maybe something can be done – and soon! – about this evil inflicted upon the rest of us!

OK, I feel better now.  Thanks for hearing my rant.  You can put your hands down now.