Ride Loud Ride Free

January 23, 2009

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Bikers in New Hampshire are fighting a proposed law that would lower the allowable noise limit for motorcycles.

Representative Judith Day, a Democrat from North Hampton, is sponsoring House Bill 95 which would lower the noise a motorcycle can make from the current limit of 106 decibels down to 99 decibels. Day says she introduced her bill after a thousand registered voters in her hometown signed a petition asking her to curb bike noise.

The Back Story

There is some background to this story which you should know-which unless you have been to the rally in Laconia or ridden New England you might not know.

New Hampshire is the “Live Free or Die” state. They actually believe that in New Hampshire. They put that on the license plates.

The state may have the highest per capita motorcycle registration rate in the country. In 2006, New Hampshire had about 71,000 bikes and 1.3 million people. That same year, California with a population of about 36.5 million people had about 750,000 legal bikes.

That works out to about one bike for every eighteen and a half people in New Hampshire. The ratio is about one in fifty in California.

If you ride in California you have to wear a helmet. You have no choice about it. In some municipalities in California adults have to wear a helmet when they roller skate. But, they do not put up with that in New Hampshire. In New Hampshire if you want to take your 10-year-old nephew out for a motorcycle ride it is for you to decide whether he is going to wear a helmet or not.

You might also be surprised to know how many bikes pass through the Granite State. One piece of road sees more than the rest. New Hampshire claims a little fifteen or sixteen mile stretch of the Atlantic coast between Massachusetts and Maine and it is a ride to take.

The road is called Route 1A. It is the New England equivalent of the Pacific Coast Highway. And North Hampton, the town that wants Representative Day to quiet down the motorcycles, sits right in the middle of it.

The Debate

About 120 people showed up to protest the bill when it got its public hearing on Wednesday. Among the objections raised was that stricter noise limits on motorcycles would discourage bikers from attending the Laconia rally this June. Laconia is about fifty miles from the coast.

The Senate Minority Leader, Robert Letourneau, opposed cutting the noise limit on bikes down to 99 decibels because he thought the present standard of 106 decibels “matched the rights of competing groups.” By which he meant bikers and people barbecuing in their back yards as the bikers pass by.

Representative Sherman Packard, the leading House Republican called the proposed law, “probably the most anti-motorcycle bill I have seen in my 18 years in the Legislature.”

Representative Packard belongs to the minority party in New Hampshire, however, so it remains to be seen whether the motorcycle noise bill will pass and what the fallout from it will be if it does pass.

John Froehling, speaking on behalf of the American Legion Riders said it looked to him that if the people let politicians get away with lowering noise standards once there would be nothing to stop the politicians from doing it over and over. “In two years, you could cost people a lot of money all over again,” Froehling complained.

Froehling’s point seems to be first you pass a law here. Then you pass a law there. Next thing you know instead of living free you are living in some place like New York City or Myrtle Beach.

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