We’ve all seen it. We’ve certainly all heard it. We’ll be enjoying a leisurely stroll somewhere quiet and serene. Suddenly, without warning, the roar of an engine will start to rumble far away. It creeps up with unerring speed, the revving sound of a straining engine suddenly accompanied by thumping bass. Before we know it some inconsiderate driver has pulled up at the lights nearby sharing the blare of their throbbing sound system and the roar of their souped-up engine for all to hear. Birds scatter, human beings grimace, nearby residents slam their windows shut.
It’s a phenomenon that motorists and pedestrians know all too well. According to research by Scrap Car Network, excessive noise is one of the most common pet peeves among pedestrians- specifically when drivers play loud music and deliberately redline their engines.
It’s obnoxious. It’s annoying… but is it damaging to our health?
How loud is too loud?
Whether you’re in the middle of a phone call or simply enjoying a moment of quiet solitude, there’s nothing more odious than a passing motorist inflicting the teeth-rattling bass of their rear-mounted subwoofer upon you. But as well as being an irritant, can it be damaging to our auditory health?
According to Dangerous Decibels, prolonged exposure to noise levels over 85 decibels (dB) can cause permanent and irreparable damage to our hearing. That’s roughly equivalent to your average vacuum cleaner. A noise above 120 dB is loud enough to do immediate and lasting damage to your hearing.
So, just how loud are all those revving engines and sound systems?
Most in-car sound systems have a decibel limit of around 110 dB. However, many after-market sound systems go significantly higher, topping out at 170 dB. While engine volumes vary enormously, some of the loudest peak at over 90dB.
Thus, the combination of the overzealous sound system and overzealous engine, while not instantly deafening to passers-by can be potentially harmful to pedestrians and potentially even more damaging to the drivers.
Should cars have a volume limit?
With the propensity for damage from vehicular noise pollution so high, should cars have a volume limit? Believe it or not, they already do and have since 1929 when regulations for the excessive noise caused by motor vehicles were first introduced. In 2016 the noise limit was reduced from 82 dB (which had remained the limit since 1978) to 74 dB.
68 dB by 2026?
Official government targets are even more ambitious, aiming to reduce the noise from most passenger vehicles from 74dB to 68 dB by 2026. For context 60 dB is roughly the volume of a spoken conversation between two people. With quieter electric and hybrid engines becoming more commonplace on our streets this target seems achievable.
Yet, while manufacturers can work to create better sound dampening technology for their vehicles and the engines which power them this doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of improper driving style or excessively robust aftermarket sound systems.
The government is currently considering the implementation of ‘noise cameras’ to clamp down on illegally loud vehicles as a deterrent to public nuisance and a potential threat to public health.
While a fundamental misnomer, these ‘noise cameras’ represent a very real possibility of regulations which have hitherto been virtually unenforceable. Prototypes have been installed at key points throughout the country in June and are being piloted until February of 2020. At this point, a decision will be made whether or not they will be deployed throughout the UK.
Or is it all political correctness gone mad?
Are this legislation and the implementation of ‘noise cameras’ a bold step in the right direction? Or are they an infringement on the driver’s personal liberties.
Of course, there will always be motorists who rail against the very notion of being told to moderate their behavior behind the wheel. If and when legislature reaches the point of enforcement, and ‘noise cameras’ start to show up feathers are sure to be ruffled. Libertarian motorists will chalk it up to “nanny states” and bemoaning “political correctness gone mad”.
Still, if there’s a possibility that such measures can protect the public’s auditory health (and save most of us from a perennial nuisance) it can surely be considered a worthy investment for the state?