NOISE FROM MOTORCYCLES (AND SOME CARS)
One in five Europeans is regularly exposed to noise levels that could “significantly” damage their health, the World Health Organization says, and it updated guidelines on those levels in Europe on 9th October 2018.
Environmental noise is among the “top environmental risks to health,” according to the WHO report. More than 100 million Europeans are affected by road traffic noise alone each year. “Noise continues to be a concern,” noted Dr. Dorota Jarosińska, program manager for living and working environments at the WHO regional office for Europe.
The new guidelines are “an important update,” given the evidence and links to health problems, said Stephen Stansfeld, professor at Barts and Queen Mary University of London and chair of the Guideline Development Group, an independent organization that advised WHO on the guidelines.
Excessive noise can affect blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and mortality from cardiovascular disease. Children’s cognition and health are also affected.
Motorcyclists have of course as much right as anyone else to use the roads, but the noise made by many of their machines is excessive, and constitutes a real and persistent nuisance to people living nearby or using the streets. This is becoming worse as the roads become more congested and more and more people are using motorcycles to get through the traffic. The vehicle need not be travelling at excessive speed to cause a noise nuisance, and fierce acceleration in low gear is the main problem.
Motorcycles are small vehicles with small engines, and yet they make so much more noise than much larger and more powerful vehicles – and some of the smallest emit the worst noise. The reason for this is that their silencers are inadequate. The same applies to certain types of car – in particular Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, and Porsche.
We think that our MP, and our GLA Member and the Borough Council should propose to the Government that they amend the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1078/1986 to require that motorcycles and cars manufactured here or imported be equipped with silencers which are much more effective, even if this reduces speed and/or acceleration.
It would appear from the noise we have to endure every day that even the existing law is not being complied with.
Reg 54(2) of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1078 of 1986 provides that “Every exhaust system and silencer shall be maintained in good and efficient working order and shall not be altered so as to increase the noise made by the escape of exhaust gases.”
Also, Reg. 97 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1078 of 1986 provides that “No motor vehicle shall be used on a road in such manner as to cause any excessive noise which could have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable care on the part of the driver.”
In addition, a Public Space Protection Order under s. 59 of the ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR, CRIME AND POLICING ACT 2014 has been made by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, which applies in the east of Chelsea and prohibits:
(a) Revving of engine(s) (as to cause a nuisance);
(b) Repeated sudden and rapid acceleration (as to cause a nuisance);
(d) Performing stunts (as to cause a nuisance);
We do not expect a noise monitor on every street corner, and we are aware that the police have limited resources, but we do expect the police whilst on patrol to stop a vehicle which appears to them to be making excessive noise, and to issue a Fixed Penalty Notice and/or require it to be taken to a testing station. We also expect the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency to make checks and to visit the dealerships where these cars and motorcycles are sold and imported
There are engineers who will alter exhaust systems so as to increase the noise, but there will usually be a warning stamped on the exhaust; ‘Not for road use’, ‘track use only’ or similar, and the police should be looking for these. It is also not unknown for the owners of certain motor cycles and cars to fit a silencer which meets the MoT standard for the purposes of the test, only to replace it with a noisy one afterwards. The police should also be aware of this.
The drivers are a changing group of people so we cannot expect action taken on one or two occasions to solve the problem. The police need to be vigilant at all times when they are on patrol.
We all now know the nature of the problem and the combination of measures which can be taken. We now expect the Police, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, the Borough Council, the GLA, and the MP to take the necessary action.
by Terence Bendixson Senior Visiting Research Fellow, Engineering & Environment, University of Southampton.
Noise is a nuisance and diminishes the quality of life. Studies for the European Union show that it adversely affects health. Hot summers and open windows aggravate the nuisance.
Ariel Alexandre, a former OECD Environment Directorate official, and a qualified acoustic engineer, says that ‘noise is the forgotten pollution of modern times’. In the case of very expensive and high powered ‘supercars’, he says: ‘Noise is….an external sign of richness and power.’ It is not a shortcoming of technology: it is a defect of civilisation.
In Britain efforts to limit external noise from cars and other motor vehicles began in 1929. Some time after 1945 responsibility for devising methods for testing noise from exhausts, tyres and engines passed to the UN Economic Commission for Europe at Geneva – a body with a wider remit than today’s European Union. Following the establishment of the European Community (later the European Union) the two bodies have collaborated on standards for ‘whole vehicle type approval’. These standards cover equipment ranging from rear red lights to seat belts to exhaust gasses and are designed to reduce casualties and emissions. Every new vehicle type or model must obtain such an approval before it is sold. And so long as that type of car continues to be made, the original approval applies.
In Britain the body responsible for administering ‘type approval’, and for liaising with the UN and EU on questions of roadworthiness, is the Vehicle Certification Agency at Bristol. It is an executive agency of the Department for Transport and is almost invisible from the media.
Until recently all vehicles on the roads in Europe were approved under a 1996 EU regulation. This did contribute to cutting vehicle noise but the noise tests, which were part of approval, had two shortcomings: having been designed to test vehicles on a rolling rig in a garage, they failed to reflect what happens on real roads; and they failed to deal adequately with tyre noise.
(Bear in mind that this period saw a fashion for massive SUVs and other very powerful cars. The desire of some buyers of such vehicles for violent acceleration and braking led, in turn, to a need for extreme traction and so to wide tyres with coarse and extremely noisy treads. It was a classic example of taste and technology rendering regulations obsolete.)
The UN Economic Commission duly addressed these problems and, in 2007, devised new noise tests which are incorporated in its Directive 70/157/EEC. A new Brussels regulation came into force in turn in 2016. It is Regulation (EU) No 540/2014. This incorporates the new noise tests and tighter noise limits that will be phased in over the years up to 2026. It will take at least until 2036, a decade later, for the new standard to cover the majority of cars on the road.
Furthermore, the new test, while good at representing vehicles when driven normally, fails to cover them when they are driven to the extreme. The European Union aims to deal with this problem with additional regulations intended to bear down on extreme noise and make it more difficult for manufacturers to outwit the approval process.
A separate European Regulation No 661/2009 aims to reduce noise from tyres at source.
Looking ahead there are prospects that battery-powered vehicles might eliminate exhaust noise altogether and that driverless vehicles might eliminate some violent driving behaviour. However, large numbers of conventional cars, unless they are outlawed, which seems improbable, are likely to continue in use for the foreseeable future. They could become status symbols. Some might become prized for their noisiness.
- a) Steady progress has been made with reducing noise from individual cars over the past forty years and further reductions are in prospect.
- b) Unfortunately, increased noise due to growing vehicle numbers has offset some of the quieting effect of regulations.
- c) It is probably no exaggeration to say that some car manufacturers will always seek to ‘game’ or circumvent environmental regulations. VW and others illegally gamed controls over gas emissions. ‘Supercars’ appear to be unaffected by noise regulations and, according to HR Owen, Lamborghini dealers in South Kensington, those cars have switches by which drivers can choose the level of noise to emit. This cannot be legal.
- d) Some individual owners will likewise modify their vehicles to make them noisier. Firms exist to make the necessary changes. See ???? website.
Notwithstanding many years of pan-European policy on vehicle roadworthiness, noisy cars and motorcycles remain serious environmental and public health problems. And unverified opinion is that noise from increasing numbers of flashy, powerful cars is greater than, say, ten years ago.
This note does not cover noise from motorcycles and scooters, an omission that needs filling. Nor does it cover police action on noise abatement. In some places, such as Kensington and Chelsea, the police use powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act to arrest noisy and speeding ‘supercars’. In this enforcement they are helped by the advertising of supercar racing circuits in Knightsbridge and along the Chelsea Embankment. The helps the police to target enforcement.
However, the police do not appear to take any action against the random passing of even very noisy vehicles. Not only does this very randomness make arrests difficult and costly but no tool, comparable to hand-held radar speed meters, exists to measure vehicle noise.
Finally what is happening to the EU regulation designed to confront noise from extreme driving?
- a) Could the MoT be extended to cover noise?
Might the annual MoT test be expanded to cover noise so that once a year, at least, car owners would have to make their vehicles compliant? Powers imposing an MoT noise test could include a requirement for any noise-increasing modifications to be removed or permanently disabled. The Vehicle Certification Agency could be charged with continuously researching noise-making modifications and circulating findings, including disabling instructions, to all MoT garages.
- b) Is it necessary to develop new noise measuring technology?
If the noise measuring equipment needed for MoTs does not exist, or if what exists is expensive or inadequate, could the Department for Transport hold a competition, open to all comers, for the design of an inexpensive, compact, easily used vehicle noise measuring kit? Ideally this should be for use during a test drive on the open road.
- c) Do the police need new powers?
Might the police be given powers to stop seemingly noisy vehicles and require them to be presented, within a fortnight, for a supplementary MoT? If so, failure to present and failure comply on noise grounds could both be made to earn substantial fines. Repeat offences could be met by the withdrawal of a driving license. If a vehicle arrested for being noisy passed a noise MoT, might the police be made responsible for paying the fee?
- d) Profiting from the sale of noise-inducing modifications.
The selling of equipment or technical instructions designed to enable vehicle owners, or garages, to increase car or motorcycle noise could be made an offence leading to a fine and, where appropriate, to the withdrawal of an operating license.
- e) Can the temporary importing of very noisy cars be stopped?
The presence in Britain of supercars with foreign license plates indicates that such vehicles are being imported. Might the owners of such cars (identified by their large engine capacity) be obliged, at the port of entry, to submit them for noise testing at a specialist garage? If the cars failed to comply with type approval, their owners could be offered the choice of having their noise-inducing equipment disconnected and disabled, or re-exported.
The Society is grateful to Luke Gumbrill of the UK Vehicle Certification Agency for much of the technical content of this note.