New York City fines drivers for noisy cars thanks to sound meters

After the pandemic lull, New York City is roaring back. Just listen: Jackhammers. Car and truck honking. Rumbling subway trains. Mermaids. Shouting.

Over the years, there have been many efforts to silence the cacophony. One of the latest: traffic cameras with sound meters that can detect loud cars and motorcycles that emit an illegal amount of street noise.

At least 71 drivers have been ticketed so far for violating noise rules in the system’s year-long pilot program. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection plans to expand the use of sound meters on the side of the road.

“Vehicles with illegally modified mufflers and tailpipes that emit extremely loud noises have become a growing problem in recent years,” said City Council member Erik Bottcher, who informed the arrival of radars in his district to help reduce “terrible” noise.

New York City already has one of the broadest noise ordinances in the country, setting permissible levels for a host of noisemakers, such as jackhammers and cars.

A state law known as the Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution Act, or the SLEEP Act, that went into effect last spring increased fines for illegal modifications to mufflers and exhaust systems.

Because police officers often have other priorities, offenders become happy, noisy people. The new devices record offenders’ license plates, just like how speeds are caught on roadside cameras. Vehicle owners face a fine of $800 for a first noise violation and a penalty of $2,625 if they ignore a hearing for a third violation.

City officials declined to disclose where the radars are currently located.

Health consequences of noise pollution

A year ago, Paris, one of Europe’s noisier cities, installed similar devices on some streets.

The evidence is clear that noise not only affects hearing but also mood and mental health, not to mention possible links to increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

“You listen to the noise out there, it’s non-stop – the horns, the trucks, the sirens,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams lamented during a recent press conference blaming a expressway of noise and pain. “Noise pollution makes it difficult to sleep and increases the risk of chronic disease.”

Nearly a decade ago, one of Adams’ predecessors, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, launched a war against noise, issuing 45 pages of rules covering chiming ice cream trucks. and how long a canine can yawn continuously (five minutes during the night hours. , 10 during most of the day) before its owner can enter the doghouse.

In 1905, the New York Times declared the metropolis “a conflagration of sound spreading so rapidly that no ordinary extinguisher can control it.” The article asks: “Is relief possible?”

A global pandemic more than a century later answers that question. For several months in the spring of 2020, the roar of vehicles on city streets stopped as people stayed in their homes.

The silence allows people to hear birdsong again – although it is often interrupted by wailing ambulance sirens and, at night, explosions of illegal fireworks.

“As quiet as it is during the lockdown, it’s an uncomfortable silence. It’s a scary silence because it carries a lot of implications,” said Juan Pablo Bello, the lead investigator of Sounds of New York City, or SONYC, is a New York University that strives to study urban noise.

Bello and his team initially hoped to collect data on the dissonance of routine urban life but the coronavirus intervened. Instead, they monitor the acoustic rhythms of a locked city.

The number of noise complaints has actually grown during the pandemic, but some experts say it’s a symptom of homeless people becoming hypersensitive to their uncomfortable environment.

Complaints of noisy neighbors almost doubled in the first year of the pandemic. Many other complaints were attributed to cars and motorcycles with modified mufflers.

‘Noise is a part of our daily life’

However, some people say that efforts to silence powerful vehicles go too far. Phillip Franklin, a 30-year-old Bronx car enthusiast, launched an online petition to protest the state’s noise law.

“Most of us live here in New York City, where noise is a part of our daily lives,” his petition said, saying that quiet vehicles pose a danger to inattentive pedestrians.

“Fixing potholes is more important than chasing noisy cars,” Franklin said in an interview.

Loud noise, hitting 120 decibels, can cause immediate damage to one’s ears, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even prolonged noise above 70 decibels can damage hearing. A roaring motorcycle is about 95 decibels.

Companies specializing in architectural acoustics have proliferated. Designing new buildings or retrofitting old ones with anti-noise technology is now a booming business.

At the Manhattan offices of environmental engineering firm AKRF, the company has a so-called “PinDrop” room — suggesting a space so quiet you might hear a pin drop — with an audio system that simulates in the bad symphony of sounds that are in the city. the occupants must endure.

While architectural drawings may convey the use of space, acoustical renderings describe how sound and noise may fill a space.

“So when it comes to sleep, we want you to sleep. If it’s for listening, we want you to hear,” said AKRF acoustical consultant Nathaniel Fletcher.

Despite sound barriers, tight-fitting windows and noise-deadening insulation, there’s only so much that can be done about the racket. Most New Yorkers make peace with that.

“I think people have developed an appreciation for the fact that this is a chaotic, noisy city,” said Bello, the NYU researcher. “We want it to be active, and we want it to be alive. And we want it to be full of jobs and activities, and not be this kind of scary, scary place.

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