The Sound And The Fury?

Noisy cars or motorbikes are the second most irritating neighbourhood noise*, according to the RAC Foundation, calling for more considerate motoring to mark Noise Action Week today (22nd May).

While improvements in technology mean car engines are 50% quieter than they were ten years ago, factory-fitted car stereos have become more powerful and after-market units more affordable. Making matters worse, the low frequencies from a bass tube can set off nearby car alarms - the fourth most common source of irritating noise.

An Ipsos MORI survey of attitudes to environmental noise carried out for Noise Action Week* has found that noisy cars and motorbikes were the second most commonly reported source of noise in the UK this year:

  • 15% of people reported being annoyed by cars and motorbike noises.
  • 14 % of people reported being annoyed by car or burglar alarms
  • 5% of people reported being annoyed by the sounds of DIY or car repairs.

In 2003, noisy cars and bikes were seventh in the list.

Driving with the windows down and the volume up has become a summer tradition in many parts of the UK. But motorists may be putting themselves at risk:

  • Of an accident - previous research by the RAC Foundation found that drivers who were listening to music with a fast beat were twice as likely to go through a red light and have twice as many accidents.
  • Of going deaf - a typical car stereo can produce 110 dB - anyone hearing noise levels of more than 85dB for 8 hours a day can expect to develop hearing loss.
  • Of getting an ASBO - under the Police Reform Act 2002, local police forces may serve ASBOs banning drivers from certain roads.
  • Of having their equipment confiscated by Environmental Health - under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, loud music from stationary vehicles may be defined as a statutory nuisance, giving Environmental Health Officers powers to serve abatement notices, impose fines or confiscate the audio equipment.

Other options available to the authorities will soon include a speed camera-like system, developed in Australia, which can detect loud subwoofers, a noisy exhaust or an untimely honk of the horn and automatically issue a ticket.

The RAC Foundation has compiled a list of tracks to avoid for the sake of the neighbours:

  • 1. Will Smith - "Boom! Shake the Room!"
  • 2. Bryan Adams - "Waking up the Neighbours"
  • 3. The Casualties - "Sounds from the Streets"
  • 4. Pavarotti - "Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep)"
  • 5. Dirty Pretty Things - "Bang Bang You’re Dead"

and suggests motorists might try these instead - albeit quietly:

  • 1. Eurythmics - "Sweet Dreams are Made of This"
  • 2. The Tremoloes - "Silence is Golden"
  • 3. Simon and Garfunkel - "The Sound of Silence"
  • 4. Deep Purple - "Hush"
  • 5. Small Faces - "Lazy Sunday Afternoon"

Audio experts advise that turning the volume down a little puts less strain on the amplifier, giving better sound and less distortion.

Edmund King, Executive Director of the RAC Foundation said:

"We are fully supportive of the objectives of Noise Action Week, campaigning for a quieter, more tranquil UK, and would encourage decibel-loving drivers to resist the temptation to pump up the volume - not only is loud music a nuisance to others, it could also be the cause of accidents on the roads.

"Although the decrease in reaction time from playing loud music translates into mere fractions of a second, on the UK’s busy roads, this reduction could mean the difference between a hit or a miss.

"We already know that continuous exposure to high levels of noise represents a real health risk, causing stress, hypertension and also potential hearing loss.

"We would ask motorists to be responsible when driving and not put lives at risk for the sake of blasting out the latest tunes."

In the RAC Foundation’s report, Motoring Towards 2050, public concern about noise was identified as a key environmental factor in future road transport policy. The report identifies quality of life issues, such as increased stress and sleep disturbance, and potential health issues, caused by transport noise. Motoring Towards 2050 recommends the adoption of measurable targets for noise abatement from transport and the development of a Noise Strategy to address all noise sources in a balanced way.

22 May 2006 Staff

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