Enforcement of Laws Concerning Noisy Vehicles

fingers in earsThe question this week revolves around vehicle noise in quiet neighbourhoods. Why don’t the municipalities do more about it asks my correspondent. This may be a case of the squeaky wheel not getting the grease!

We all like to enjoy the peace and quiet of our property without being disturbed by loud noise. There is good reason for that because noise that disturbs is bad for our health, both physical and mental. While we may tolerate occasional short duration noise that is not too loud, our urban environment can be continuously noisy at all times of the day.

There is ample legislation in place to control noise from vehicles. The Criminal Code, Motor Vehicle Act and municipal bylaws all provide rules and penalties for those that fail to follow them. It is up to police and bylaw enforcement to deal with those who fail to consider others and make life miserable.

No person shall start, drive, turn or stop any motor vehicle, or accelerate the vehicle engine while the vehicle is stationary, in a manner which causes any loud and unnecessary noise in or from the engine, exhaust system or the braking system, or from the contact of the tires with the roadway. This quote from the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations (MVAR) pretty much covers every aspect of vehicle noise, regardless of it’s source.

There is no requirement that test equipment be used to determine if a vehicle is generally too loud. The MVAR provides that the opinion of an inspector as to whether the engine and exhaust noise is greater than that made by other vehicles in good condition of comparable size, horsepower, piston displacement or compression ratio shall determine whether exhaust gases are expelled with excessive noise.

Having said that, the MVAR does provide maximum sound pressure levels for various types of motor vehicles and they may be tested using a decibel meter.

The real stumbling block here is the willingness of enforcement personnel to devote time to the issue and having the courts convict violators.

Traffic law enforcement focuses on drivers whose behaviour causes collisions. There is some time in an officer’s shift for activities that don’t directly deal with harm reduction but the current aims are to curtail impaired and distracted driving, excessive speed and insure the use of occupant restraints. Don’t expect much time to be devoted to your noise issues.

I once sat through an entire day of provincial court waiting for the dispute of a ticket that I had written to the rider of a motorcycle that did not have a muffler. The hearing was brief and the judge dismissed the ticket as the last matter on the list. I spoke to him outside the courtroom afterwards and was told that the matter really wasn’t important to him in the context of the other trials he had to hear daily.

I have not policed in a municipality where bylaw enforcement officers dealt with noise from moving vehicles. While that does not mean that this does not occur, it does show the importance that some municipalities attach to your problem. They too have more pressing issues to deal with.

While we may lose sleep over noisy vehicles around our homes, chances are the most effective way to deal with the situation is to roll over and go back to sleep.


Ignore Noisy Vehicles?

Ignore noisy vehicles? If only we could. By the very definition of the problem they are literally impossible to ignore. I wouldn't need your useless advice to ignore them if it was at all humanly possible to do so.

No doubt that is the hope of the ego-challenged owners of extremely large number of noisy vehicles on our roads and in our neighbourhoods (and on our waters). I.e. to be impossible to ignore. HEAR ME ROAR!

What you're asking us to do is to ignore our reaction to noisy vehicles, but even that is impossible to do after repeated abuse.

However there's also another level of ignoring going on -- and it's not the one in your column's title and conclusion either.

I agree entirely with your assessment that the problem with enforcing sane noise levels lies at several levels, right from the top down, so to speak.

You learned a lesson in your attempt to serve justice for someone, but unfortunately it was a lesson that some parts of the law can simply be ignored. Even if you, and the judge who taught you, consider that the defining line is one of where harm reduction can reasonably be achieved, it's still not right, in the eyes of the law, so to speak.

However the lesson that the general public most certainly takes from being able to get away with such violations of the law is one that makes them believe they are the ones who can decide which laws they can get away with ignoring. Perhaps the majority will use their own personal assessments of where risk of harm may lay, but many will not. However given the very poor ability of us humans to do rational risk assessment, even the majority are often going to come to very wrong conclusions, but there's a dangerous feedback loop that strengthens such belief systems. Until it is too late of course.

As a lifelong motorcycle rider, and as an experience driver, I can assure you that there is no truth whatsoever to the fallacy that loud bikes save lives. Nobody has ever truthfully said "I wouldn't have been able to avoid that bike if I had not heard it." Helmets (and lights) save lives. Loud pipes piss people off.

My argument here isn't just a "slippery slope" argument -- it's one that is widely observed and well documented. Give someone an inch and they will take as much as they think they can get away with.

For example in some ways it's much the same a speeding. If you drive any of the major multi-lane highways in any province in our fair land and you stick strictly to the posted speed limit, you are sure to be passed by a police cruiser at some point, and it won't have flashing lights or a blaring siren either. It doesn't take long for anyone to figure out that you can safely add 10-20% to the posted limit and cruise through almost any speed trap without a care and never get pulled over.

However before you know it the folks who feel they have to have the thrill of driving faster than the majority will be 10-30% faster than all the rest who are already at 140, and soon everyone and their grandmothers are all calling for increases in the posted limits.

The same goes for noise, but noise is impossible to ignore, and all too often impossible to dampen or avoid.

I don't know what "we" should do about it all -- either at a personal level or at a societal level. Ideally all our laws would be enacted with full support for the resources necessary for sufficient levels of enforcement whereby the majority of law-abiding citizens would be literally afraid of adding the 10-20% factor. It doesn't seem like that's how politics works these days though.

My main point to you though is that it's never a good idea to condone ignoring the law, even if you are only doing it the secondary fashion you've done in your column.

BTW, there is actual harm in the absurd noise levels of many trucks, cars, and motorcycles. Physical harm, mental harm, and emotional harm. Loud bikes damage the ears of more than just the rider. Lack of sleep is a major issue for many people. Stress from annoyance factors causes health issues. Just yesterday I was hiking up on the far ridge above Rose valley but I could still clearly hear the pounding reverberations of the bikes speeding (literally) along the highway far below in the distance. My enjoyment of the wilderness was certainly less than it could have been. On my drive home along that same highway with my windows wide open I had the great misfortune to share the highway with one such loud bike trying desperately to exceed the speed limit, or rather to exceed the average speed of the flow of traffic since we were all already 10km/h over, and the rider clearly expressed his frustration at being held back by the traffic on his road by constantly cranking open his throttle. The noise of his straight pipes caused physical pain in my ears, especially my left ear right beside my open window. I'm not so sure the cars ahead that were holding him back heard any of it though.

I heard it said recently that "every public policy and law is eventually one of public health". Straight pipes on bikes might not usually cause accidents on the roads (though that one bike yesterday made me want to cause one), but they do have a measurable effect on the health and well being of those who have to live with their noise. We just have to find better ways to get our public services at all levels to measure, record, and attribute these effects to their root causes.

A solution

Stress, sleep, and enjoying living are important. Very very important. And noise adds to the first, taking away from the other two. Population is going up, cities are more and more crowded, escaping is more and more difficult. Surely as we have laws that technically prohibit noise, there should be a way to easily set up a method to follow up on this. I have a proposal.

We who are disturbed by the noise can easily identify the violators. It's not always so easy to get their lic# and a really good vehicle description, but that can be gotten by people living near where these people park. All that is needed is an easy way for people to follow up. If more municipalities allow the subjective ticketing rather than requiring some decibel measure (at what distance, btw? I don't remember reading that in the MVA) then this could be followed up on when various reports of a vehicle ID are given. Cash grab for slow days, and slow days do occur.

Article about subjective ticketing in Vancouver:


Fining these people would help a bit, but requiring them to unmodify their vehicles if they are licensed for road would be even better. Not so easy, and there would be pushback from noise lovers as well as manufacturers. People with thousands to blow on a motorcycle and other recreational pursuits would relocate elsewhere. Municipalities do consider economics, but we people subject to the noise pay the price.

Submitted by E-mail

I fought my way to Supreme Court over a noise ticket. I don't disagree at all that noise makers need to be dealt with, but I don't agree with the MVA being used (with demerit points) to prosecute actions which don't pose risk to others. In my case the officer targeted me (I was riding a nice shiny bike), pulled me over and ordered me to submit to an on the spot decibel test. It's wrong to be conducting an objective test in order to prosecute under a subjective section of the MVA (7.a.01 if memory serves me correctly).

I've blogged about this incident as well:

The thing that annoys me the

The thing that annoys me the most is not so much the noise, it's the "don't care" attitude. Some people simply don't care if their loud vehicles cause grief to others. In fact they seem to think they are entitled to do it and any attempts to stop it are considered an infringment on their rights. Maybe I'm being unfair. After all if you have a small penis maybe you should be able to drive around in a loud vehicle to compensate.

Google Ads