The New Hampshire noise wars are flaring again. Last weekend New Hampshire State Police as well as police from the towns of Rye and North Hampton set up check points to test motorcycle exhaust system decibel levels. No cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, boats, lawn mowers, leaf blowers or blimps were stopped. Only motorcycles.
This has been happening throughout the summer in New Hampshire, where the state motto is “live free or die.” It has been happening most obviously along the little strip of coastal road that connects neighboring Massachusetts and Maine. Last Sunday, 53 motorcycles were stopped and tested in Rye. Seven motorcycles were issued “defective equipment tags.”
The cited motorcyclists must take their bikes to a state inspection station for retesting. During retesting the bike must be quieter than 106 decibels. The motorcyclist must then send proof that the bike has passed to the town or city that issued him the tag. If he doesn’t his registration will be revoked.
Buying Enforcement Opportunities
Along the gentrifying New Hampshire coast, affluent residents have begun financing the war on loud bikes. Last July, a good citizen of New Castle named Bill Mitchell got tired of listening to motorcycles ride past his home in the summertime. Mitchell contacted the State Police and found out the Staties use a Simpson Electronics Model 886-2 decibel meter whenever they get a hankering to harass a biker. (The 886-2 is pictured above.) So Mitchell bought one of those, on sale for $620, and donated it to his local police.
“It will be a revenue source for them,” Mitchell bragged to the Portsmouth Herald. “It’s also a give back to me.” Mitchell got a deal on the meter because it is a discontinued model. The meter is also unreliable without the “optional” calibrator. A calibrator would have cost Mitchell an extra $400 which he chose not to spend. Apparently he was content to buy law enforcement. There was no reason for him to buy accuracy.
The Police As Scientists
One reason this meter has been so popular with police is that it is notoriously easy to manipulate in order to enhance volume readings. The owner’s manual for the now discontinued 886-2 warns:
“When sound is coming mainly from one direction, the reading might be affected
by the relative positions of the microphone and operator. For example, if the operator and microphone are in line and facing the sound source, there can be a marked increase in response at high frequencies because the operator will act as a reflector and produce errors of several dB at frequencies above 100 Hz. A more uniform frequency response is obtained with the Instrument extended as far as conveniently possible in front of the operator, and the axis of the microphone oriented to form an angle of incidence of 70° with the incoming sound wave.”
In other words, all a cop has to do to enhance the volume this device measures is to stand right behind it. And standing right behind it is what most cops do in order to read the dial. Isn’t scientific police work fascinating!