There was a small victory for bikers the other day in the increasingly unreasonable war on aftermarket motorcycle exhausts.
Rockingham County New Hampshire Superior Court Judge Kenneth McHugh ruled that towns in that state cannot impose their own noise standards on motorcycle exhausts. “If each town in New Hampshire had the authority to enact different noise emission ordinances, the state would be subject to a checkerboard pattern of laws,” McHugh wrote. “For example, a motorcyclist who complies with the state noise emission limit could be precluded from driving through a town because that town enacted a lower noise emission limit than the state.”
Judge McHugh made his ruling in a suit filed by Seacoast Harley Davidson in North Hampton against the town of North Hampton, New Hampshire. New Hampshire law limits motorcycle exhaust noise to 106 decibels. The town wanted to outlaw motorcycles that generate more than 80 decibels which is about the sound of a dial tone. The noise level inside a car in traffic is about 85 decibels. Lawn mowers generate about 107 decibels. Jackhammers make about 125 decibels of noise.
In the last decade, most efforts to purge motorcyclists from America have attempted to brand bikers as polluters. Enforcement has focused on levying draconian fines on V-Twin motorcycles with after market exhaust systems.
One rationale behind the campaign against after market exhausts is that American motorcyclists, as opposed to coal power plants in China, are the cause of North American air pollution. Another rationale is that Pythons and ThunderHeaders disturb the peace and quiet of America’s highways and streets.
Police departments usually embrace motorcycle noise ordinances because they give cops an excuse to stop, harass and punish bikers when there is no other reason to do so. In the North Hampton case the local police chief, a man named Brian Page, actually refused to enforce the noise ordinance because he thought it was “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
NHCALM Is Disillusioned
Dozens of these laws have been proposed or enacted in the last few years in California, New York City, Denver, Boston, Maine and New Hampshire. In most cases the laws are lobbied for by small groups of citizens who seem to sincerely believe that they have been wronged because motorcyclists rode near their houses or passed them on the highway. Several of these groups incorporate the acronym CALM, for Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles, in their names.
In the North Hampton case, New Hampshire CALM opposed and was represented by an attorney in the lawsuit. In a statement earlier this year the group said:
“New Hampshire Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles (NHCALM) is a grassroots coalition of New Hampshire residents dedicated to bringing peace and quiet to our streets and neighborhoods by passing and enforcing state laws and local ordinances to assure that motorcycles run legally and quietly in New Hampshire. It is our position that the New Hampshire law regulating motorcycle noise emissions is unreasonable, allowing a maximum decibel emission of 106 dB, and the protocols for testing make reliable field enforcement nearly impossible…. NHCALM is initiating legal action to uphold the recently enacted North Hampton ordinance requiring motorcycles within the Town to adhere to EPA Muffler Labeling Requirements. This ordinance effectively reduces the maximum decibel level to 80 dB.”
New Hampshire CALM dropped out of the suit last May. Robert Shaines, the lawyer representing the group in the suit said NHCALM dropped out because it “gave up on the court system” and would continue to fight for unreasonable laws against motorcyclists in the New Hampshire state legislature.