Too Loud Laws

October 27, 2008

All Posts, Features, News

Everyone agrees, we must be stopped by any means necessary, fair or foul. The latest weapon against us is the “noise pollution” law.

Right out of the gate, let’s not dance around. First thing, let’s state two self-evident truths.

“Noise pollution” laws are a most excellent example of what Clinton guru Dick Morris used to call “bite-sized” laws. And, the political concept behind “bite-sized” laws is: Government at all levels is impotent to do anything about anything that matters but self-serving politicians can at least win elections by conjuring problems out of the thin air and then creating the illusion that they are solving those imaginary problems.

Secondly, in case you haven’t noticed, municipal governments are gathering more and more of their revenue these days from the enforcement of traffic laws. Have you been seeing more cops on the road lately and you still are not sure what is behind all that “police presence?” Money. Now you know. Money.

One way to increase revenue from traffic fines is to find more efficient ways to enforce existing laws-like “red light cameras” which automate the enforcement of laws against turning right on a red light after less than a full two-second stop. Right turns on red after a rolling or too brief a stop account for about 99 percent of these tickets. In Los Angeles these tickets result in a $385 fine and that amount is split evenly between the city and the private firm that franchises these devices and stores the video evidence.

A second way to increase revenue from traffic fines is to invent new traffic offenses, like motorcycle “noise pollution.”

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is one of those new problems that have been created as if by magic. Sure, people who live near railroad tracks and airports have been bothered forever. But, the idea of noise as a kind of pollution, like smoke or dust, was just invented in 2004. And, the inventor was a college professor named Ted Rueter.

Rueter, who taught “political activism” at UCLA, founded a “group,” with a membership of “one,” called “Noise Free America.”

“A lot of people get off on noise and think that there’s something wrong with peace and quiet,” Rueter told the Utne Reader in 2005. “We’re still fighting a public perception that this is a trivial issue and anyone who’s concerned or interested in curbing noise is a crank.”

Note Rueter’s use of the imperial “we.” Isn’t that great? We. “We are still fighting….”

Rueter went on to tell the Utne Reader that he (or maybe we) “dreams of the day when a forward-thinking class action attorney decides to take offending manufacturers to court. ‘It would be a monumental case-much stronger than anything you could throw at the fast food industry…no one is being forced to go to McDonald’s.'”

Harley’s Brave Stand For Us

As Rueter’s crusade pertains to motorcycles, the manufacturer he is soliciting underemployed lawyers to sue is, naturally, Harley-Davidson. And, nothing so terrifies any big corporation more than the phrase, “Class Action Lawsuit.” So, in case you have been wondering why Harley CEO Jim McCaslin went on the company website in 2006 and wrote these words about motorcycle noise:

“So what if you’ve picked the wrong pipes? Then you have a very important individual decision to make. We all do. No one expects everyone to change out their straight pipes overnight. But we all must consider changing out our thinking. We need to think about the consequences our actions have on others, before others take action against us.”

Yeah. Us. Now you know that, too.

The “action” McCaslin was talking about was a class action lawsuit. And, the us he was talking about was him. And, now you also know why Harley has been so timid about this subject in general.

Victims Of Noise Pollution Speak Out, Newz At Eleven

The “noise pollution issue” has offered cynical local politicians and highly paid cops a new means to increase revenue and exercise social control over people like us who tend to have unruly hair and colorful tattoos.

Rueter sent out press releases. Of course, he did. What else does a “political activism” professor do?

Local newspapers printed these releases virtually verbatim and thus alerted the American people to this new threat. “Laura!”

“What is it this time, George?”

“Have you seen this in the paper? About noise pollution. No wonder we ain’t happy no more like we was.”

After reading about their new problem, people demanded that something be done by somebody. And, of course the police and the politicians proved that they were doing a good job by ticketing us.

This time us means us. Okay? If you are reading this chances are good you are one of us. Us.

The magical, lucrative, travelling, “noise pollution,” medicine show has passed through many American towns in the last four years. In the last month it has been strumming and dancing its way through Myrtle Beach, SC on the east coast and Temecula, CA on the west.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach passed an ordinance on September 23 that states: “Motorcycles built after Dec. 31, 1982, must have unmodified exhaust mufflers bearing federal Environmental Protection Agency stickers or stamps. Motorcycles built before Dec. 31, 1982, must not be louder than 83 decibels when measured from 20 inches away.”

Bikes that are louder than 83 decibels must be impounded and are not released until the owner shows up with a tow truck. Once impounded the bikes cannot be ridden out of Myrtle Beach.

Now, eighty-three decibels is an entirely arbitrary number. It is a sound level somebody picked out a hat.

By way of comparison, a telephone dial tone is 80 decibels. Which is also the Federal standard for a motorcycle exhaust. Eighty decibels. Consider that. Someone in Washington with the power to invent new laws thinks that a motorcycle should be exactly as loud as a dial tone.

The decibel level inside a closed car in traffic is 85 decibels. That is two decibels louder than the Myrtle Beach standard for a bike. So, the Myrtle Beach standard guarantees that if you are in a car and there is a motorcycle in your blind spot you will never know he is there.

A subway train at a distance of 200 feet is 95 decibels. And, the crescendo of “Ode To Joy” the fourth movement of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony-a tune you know and you have hummed even if you do not recognize the title-is about 125 decibels. Joy. Beethoven wanted to make the great, overpowering sound of joy.

So, soon a call must go out in this great land. One of the great musical treasures of western civilization will be discovered by television news to be loud. Loud! And so, we-and by we I mean them-must ban Beethoven! We must ban Beethoven now or who is to say where all this Beethoven pollution will ever stop!


California also has a number, 95 decibels. And again, it is a number that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) more or less picked out of the air. It is not a bad number. It is a better number than the Myrtle Beach number.

But then, since when does a California cop need a number? In an article in the Malibu Times in 2005, CHP information officer Leland Tang admitted that whether a motorcycle is too loud or not too loud is “open to the officer’s interpretation, with experience and training, as to what is too loud.”

Got that? Trust the policeman. He is your friend. You know he will do what is right. That is the actual California standard: “The officer’s interpretation.”

Consequently, Temecula which has in the past been a destination for weekend riders, issued 60 tickets during the first three weekends in September. And, the tickets were all issued on an individual officer’s “interpretation,” based on his “experience and training” of what was “too loud.”

Why Loud Pipes

If you changed out your pipes you know why you did it. First, it allowed you to go from 58 horsepower to 68 horsepower. And a 15 percent increase in power makes a huge difference in your ability to accelerate away from danger. Secondly, and more importantly, loud pipes save lives.

People who have never been on a motorcycle routinely mock the notion that loud pipes save lives. Ted Rueter has repeatedly mocked the “myth” that loud pipes save lives. Critics of the “myth” always argue that most motorcycle accidents occur in front of the bike so it must have been the biker who was at fault and the loudness of his pipes could not have made any difference.

Of course you know how loud pipes save lives. Accidents happen in front of the bike because somebody has turned in front of you. Or somebody has pulled out of a side street or a driveway in front of you.

And after they do this, while you and the bike are both laying there, leaking oil and blood all over the asphalt, when the first witness arrives, these motorists always say the same thing. They say, “I never knew he was there.”


Even cops know loud pipes save lives. Take for example, the Oakland, CA Police Department.

Oakland is an old school department that still rides Harley-Davidsons and last spring, the city did a study that indicated that their police bikes might be noise polluters. Consequently all 30 of the department’s Harleys were fitted with quieter, stock exhaust systems. These were the exhausts that come with the bikes, the exhausts you drive out of the dealership.

And, that improvement in the way things are lasted all the way until March, 2008 when an Oakland motorcycle cop riding a Harley with a stock exhaust was struck by an automobile driver who said he never knew the motorcycle was there.

According to Oakland Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki, quoted in the San Francisco Examiner, “the decibel drop sparked a chorus of complaints from other officers, who said they felt less safe.” The department concluded, Kozicki went on to say, that “it was in the best interest of the officers to put more-audible pipes back on.”

So, Oakland paid $15,000 to put new louder pipes on 30 department bikes and when the city bought another 15 bikes they came with louder, non-standard exhaust systems as well.

The new exhausts, when tested, averaged 93 decibels. So, all 45 bikes would be impounded in Myrtle Beach. And, how they would do in Temecula would depend on the moon, the tides, astrology and the mood of the local cops that minute in that hour on that day.

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