Noisy Motorcycles

MotorcycleI've been looking forward to eating a meal on our back deck and enjoying the warm sunshine outdoors for a while now. Last evening was the first comfortable opportunity so my wife and I took advantage of it. The breeze was rustling the branches, the birds were chirping, the frogs were peeping and the motorcycles were whining and rumbling.

Why don't the police charge drivers of motorcycles with no or ineffective mufflers? I'm a bit surprised that these seasonal complaints haven't started showing up in the DriveSmartBC inbox yet.

No Mufflers At All

For enforcement personnel, the situation of no muffler at all is probably the easiest to deal with. A quick examination of the pipe will reveal no obstruction and a ticket can be issued. The explanation in court is a simple one and the traffic court justice is assured of the situation making a conviction more easily obtained.

Inadequate Mufflers

Having an inadequate muffler is where the difficulty lies at roadside. While the Regulations are clear that the opinion of the inspector is sufficient, the traffic court justice is not so easily assured and without an independent witness or a measurement with a decibel meter a conviction is not nearly as easily obtained.

Decibel Measurements

The next problem is that decibel levels are specified for an inspection facility, not the side of the highway where the police operate. The levels would serve as a guideline but are not definitive.

Motor Vehicle Act, Regulations and Bylaws

Tickets issued under the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations (MVAR) for exhaust system violations specifically are few and far between. In fact, police did not issue any tickets under 7.03 MVAR in 2021. That said, about 3,274 tickets were issued under section 219 (1) of the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA), the "catch all" section for vehicle defects.

Some municipalities have incorporated noise rules into their traffic bylaws that may be used instead of the MVA and MVAR.

Inspection Orders

Instead of issuing a violation ticket, police may choose to issue an inspection order instead. Here's what the inspection manual that guides a Designated Inspection Facility says about motorcycle noise emissions:

The opinion of an inspector as to whether the engine and exhaust noise emission 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.

Must be comparable to OEM and confirmed with decibel meter.

  • equipped with any noise-enhancing device
  • confirm noise emission level with decibel meter for any vehicle with non-OEM, modified or altered exhaust system

ICBC does not publish data on vehicle inspection orders #1 and #2 issued by police, so there is no indication of how often this tool is used to try and solve the problem.

Loud Pipes Save Lives

Having a loud exhaust to some riders is either a safety or a lifestyle issue. "Loud pipes save lives" is a common justification but according to the Canada MotoGuide, they do not. The majority of collisions are frontal look but didn't see incidents.

Regardless of the action that the police might take, sometimes the exhaust is not going to be repaired, or will be repaired long enough to pass inspection and then put back the way it was in the first instance.

I always laugh at their feeble "loud pipes save lives" line.  I ask them why they don't have a bright pink bike and reflective vest for maximum visibility.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

It's not the colour that you wear that makes other motorists aware of where you are on the road (especially in drivers blind spots or car music way too loud). BUT I must admit, there's LOUD and then there's OBNOXIOUSLY LOUD (and we can all do without that).

We too used to (30 years ago) enjoy an afternoon on the deck, living above Pipers Lagoon Park.

Now, when the parties are over, the motorcycle packs race out and up a short hill on Hammond Bay Rd. reving as high as they can. Even at 200 feet away, the noise is too painful to sit there.

If this was a business problem, a businessman would solve it very quickly. Because it is a "Justice" dept problem, it will be endlessly shuffled.

I ride a motorcycle. A late model. Although I have an aftermarket exhaust pipe on , it’s essentially a factory endorsed upgrade and available as an option. It’s no louder than the stock pipe but has a more pleasing tone and is lighter being made of Titanium and carbon fibre. Where the law is useful at getting fines in the hands of motorcyclists with loud pipes does it require a decibel meter. It simply requires motorcycle knowledge to be able assess whether the pipe is modified from stock and has the catalytic converter removed.

The absence of a catalytic converter is the primary cause of excessive noise. It is illegal to remove the catalytic converter. See a straight pipe coming out of that twin? No need to pull out a decibel meter to issue the ticket. Instead write them for failing to have stock catalytic converter.

Can't wait for electric bikes to become the mainstream.

However, wanted to pick up on the note about loud pipes not saving lives. Completely agree, but the justification can't reasonably be found in the old myth about the majority of collisions being frontal SMIDSY type. This is only a small percentage of the overall total of motorcycle-involved collision types, albeit a large subset of the multi-vehicle motorcycle-involved crashes.

The majority of motorcycle collisions, looked from a causation perspective, are rider-error crashes, insofar as they are the sum of single-vehicle loss of control crashes and of multi-vehicle crashes in which the rider (not the other driver) was primarily or fully at fault.

On this basis, we can more clearly understand that loud pipes were merely the symphonic accompaniment to the overall poor judgement and performance of the crashed rider. They certainly offer no protection from the myriad classic throttle and brake errors that actually underpin so many of the crashes, up to and including many that are determined to have been primarily "other driver" caused.

The long black skid on the pavement that terminates at the point of impact with another vehicle tells an equally long sad tale of rider error that began with the selection of a non-ABS bike, and the subsequent failure to learn and practice effective braking with the antidiluvian artifacts on that bike. It tells us also of a fundamental failure of the rider to adequately scan their environment for what is universally acknowledged to be a major life-threatening hazard, and to take proper steps proactively to avoid being affected by that blindingly obvious hazard.

Not a popular view, admittedly, but one based in science and not the typical received wisdom of the ages.

As electric vehicles become more numerous, society has an opportunity to make our urban landscape more livable, but only if we start now to eliminate intentionally loud vehicle noise. To do that we need a different approach, one that fundamentally changes how the problem is tackled.

  1. Have ICBC host a public website where anyone can register vehicle noise complaints. All that would be entered is the offending vehicle's license plate and the date when the complainant experienced the noise. Require a small per-complaint processing fee (say $5-$10) to ensure the website is not a burden to taxpayers, and to discourage nuisance or "revenge" complaints. I suspect there are more than enough fed up citizens willing to pony up $10 to get urban noise reduced, increase their property value, and allow them to start enjoying their backyards and public spaces again.
  2. Requiring a payment online would have the side-effect of identifying the complainant (only to ICBC, never made public) and therefore allow that complainant to be blacklisted if they are consistently registering licenses that are later proven not loud.
  3. In this first phase of the program, police would also use this website to register loud vehicles, thereby avoiding any wasted time going through a ticketing and court system that achieves little. Obviously no fee for police to register as many licenses as they observe in likely violation of noise limits.
  4. When it comes time to renew your vehicle insurance, if your license plate has a noise complaint registered against it on the website you will be notified by ICBC that your vehicle must pass a vehicle noise inspection before ICBC will renew its insurance. If your vehicle passes, the inspection is free. So if you are pretty sure your vehicle will fail the noise test you can be proactive and get the exhaust brought back into legal compliance before attempting the inspection.
  5. If your vehicle fails inspection then you must: i) pay for the inspection, ii) pay a fine, iii) get the vehicle's exhaust fixed at your expense (you cannot drive it legally, so the expense will include towing), iv) pay for a second noise inspection that proves the vehicle now passes. To recover inspection expenses, the total cost of fines and inspection fees should be at least $1000, plus the cost of repairs. One would expect the number of loud vehicles on the road after 12 months will be drastically reduced.
  6. After a year or two, the police could then begin phase 2 of the program, and start actively pulling over those remaining noise lovers who decide to temporarily swap out their illegal exhaust just for the ICBC inspection. With a much smaller number of vehicles violating noise laws, the police and legal system can start to address it day-to-day, with immediate tickets and fines, all without risk of overloading the system.

This doesn't strike me as too complex a framework to be practical, and it directly addresses the #1 problem: police and judges are simply too scarce and important a resource to be tied up chasing down noisy vehicles.

Measuring sound is not as simple as say measuring temperature or weighing an object because sound changes in intensity depending on the distance from the source and objects that might reflect or absorb the sound waves. The formulae for describing the intensity of sound is Energy divided by (Time x Area). Reflecting sound will add to the intensity and absorbing will reduce the intensity. If I were to stand next to the motorcycle and hold the sound metre a foot away from the exhaust the reading I would get will be higher than if I turned around and held the metre in front of me and shielding it from the exhaust.

There should be a standard distance, height above ground and control for reflective or absorbing objects that is required for any measurement. The sound metres should be certified too. I would be suspect of the accuracy of any reading made on a roadside and unless the reading was some considerable amount over the limit I would think it should be challenged.

FWIW, sound is not linear. A reading of 90 dB is considerably more damaging to hearing than is 80. 90 will cause hearing loss. 140 dB is painful. 60 dB is roughly normal conversation and most people can hear down to zero. Young people can often hear down to -15 dB.

There are apps for smart phones and inexpensive metres that will do a reasonable job of measuring sound but will suffer from accuracy issues. However because sound is not linear as it increases you can be assured a reading more than 20 dB over the regulations or bylaw will likely fail a test conducted by a police officer.

Perhaps the police could charge a driver of a loud vehicle with assault when that driver uses ear plugs for protection but still subjects the public to damaging noise?

I took part in Transport Canada motorcycle noise certification tests at Boundary Bay Airport back in the 80's.  It was a very precisely-laid out test area with no reflecting sound surfaces within 150 metres, as I recall. 

The tests required full-throttle acceleration over a 100 metre distance, with the measuring devices at the mid-point about 25 metres to the side, I believe.  This is pretty well impossible to duplicate on the roadside, and the police don't have the same equipment.

I was also part of a BC Motorcycle Federation project at about the same time aimed at sound testing of off-road motorcycles. The test required the sound meter held at the same height as the exhaust outlet, at a distance of 1 metre and at a 45 degree angle to the side. The certified meters cost us about $2500 at the time, but should be cheaper now.

This kind of test could be easily duplicated on the roadside, assuming the right equipment and a trained tester. The hard part is knowing what dbA rating is appropriate and acceptable under this test procedure compared to the Transport Canada one for on-street certification. 

I'm sure there's an engineer out there with those answers.

Having been authorized by the Ministry for many years to inspect classes 1 to 5 of vehicles in the province of BC, I also performed Federal inspections of all classes which included motorcycles.

The Federal inspection requires all motorcycles entering Canada to display the Db level stamped  on the exhaust certifying a level that does not exceed 68 Db. No stamp will not pass inspection. This is a Federal Inspection.

I have often wondered why motorcycles as well as some trailers are exempt from inspection when coming from other Canadian Jurisdictions or Imported from a different Country into Canada.

Motorcycles and some classes of trailers when it comes to provincial inspections. The inspection Facility must be authorized to do the inspection required for the class in addition the authorized inspector must hold the applicable authorization to perform the inspection type which he or she may possess. However if the Facility is not authorized the inspection can not be performed.

A motorcycle inspection in the province can only be inspected by a facility and Inspector licensed.

I can recall numerous notices and orders being issued for exhaust level violations that required inspection. Back then licensed Facilities and class 6 inspectors were few and miles away.

As I have retired now I often look and ask myself why importing a vehicle into Canada requires recall attestation from the manufacturer but not such in Canada when changing provincial Jurisdiction. Most buyers never check let alone notify the manufacture of change in ownership.

My hope would be you didn't purchase a Pinto.

Regarding the obnoxious bikers sporting around without mufflers or a very modified one: most are old guys, past 50 I am told but look like, from my observations more like pushing 70, all grey or white flowing hair beneath the 1 cup size helmet. 

You mention that you are surprised there haven't been more comments on these guys and gals posing as bad bums; me too. I have written my MLA several times, the previous and the current. A nice little reply comes back almost predictably ther same that says,"due to high volumes of emails..."; after that crickets as they say. There is the vaunted argument about valuable tourism dollars; ahem we live here, like our peace and harmony, and don't think too unkindly of tourists spending their dough in or valley, but if they are ride silly antiques that blast, blare and destroy our peace, end up off the road because they cannot ride safely upon our twisty roads and require a clean up wagon, then who cares if a few bucks are not spent. Besides, it is a few grownups behaving childishly on their 2 wheelers that make for bad reactions to all motorcycles. However, the courteous riders on motorcycles that go about our highways safely and rather silently are super welcome to come here. I'm sure their money is spread around town too.

 As for Bylaws, they have no teeth because the enforcment of such is wanting; about the same as a Government Minister getting entusiastic about doing something about this nuisance and uncalibrated disregard for other citizenry, enacting, putting into place proper enforcement. 

The silly myth about "Loud pipes save... bowow wuff wuff, is as stupid as the people that utter it. Just think about it for a moment, then realize they are already admitting their guilt. Having to rely on loudness to tell people and animals they are coming is just plain silly as Sarah Palin. Is that like, "lookout because I am astride this behemoth that cannot go around corners without dragging something that scares the bejeebers out of me, and I am likely going to buy the farm." So custom pipe it without a muffler to suit the engine displacement and that will do the trick, there I am safer now.

Just think how many lives they would save if they knew how to ride and didn't need to falsely believe they are forewarning of their imminent arrival.

Many of us in our neighbourhood are sick to death of loud, modified or no muffler trucks and motorcycles, but informing the RCMP is useless, as they do not seem to care, and going to the municipal politicians about it is not much help, either, as it seems they are on good terms with businesses that supply modified mufflers to vehicles like motorcycles. The noise is deafening, and the smell of exhaust is not much better.  I would like to think there is a solution to this problem, but I don’t know.

As an inspector and technician in the motorcycle and performance industry for 38 years now I can honestly say I disagree with some of these statements made in this article. No matter which direction a passenger vehicle is coming in before any type of accident occurs, a crack of the throttle and exhaust gets the drivers attention immediately.

The issue we have more commonly is with drivers and riders being distracted by life in general and not being aware on the roads. HUGE PROBLEM!

I understand there are people that don’t like motorcycles and particularly Harley Davidson models because of the sound and the stigma, but again it’s the riders not the bikes or the exhaust systems.

We use a sound meter for inspection purposes and try our best to educate the riders on the exhaust use and respect for others, they pass if they listen to us!!

Performance vehicles have always been a huge industry and will always be going forward . Finding a solution to “margaret and bob” complaining about motorcycles and everything else they dislike in life will continue as well .

Every season we see the same article by the same humans that have some authority, and while they have a soap box to stand on and sound the alarms and be heard, other peers in their group disagree with them just as we the “riders” do.

Somehow we need to take the human and personality conflicts out of this conversation and find a level playing field, or else the wheel of controversy will keep spinning in the mud.

Modern vehicles do not require performance enhancements that intentionally generate excessive noise. The vast majority of loud motorcycles had more than enough power before being modified, and do not carry riders with the high-vis apparel that every other industry uses to improve safety. Any technical difficulty in proving roadside legality of a particular exhaust system is irrelevant to the discussion. Manufacturers have more than enough technology to ensure compliance with noise regulations. It is trivially easy to keep a vehicle in compliance, just don’t install exhaust specifically designed to create excessive noise. 
We all know performance and safety are the industry’s self-serving excuses, so let’s discuss the real issue. The vehicle performance industry is knowingly contributing to the destruction of a livable society. It does so at the fringe of legitimacy, for profit, to satisfy a small segment of consumers who do not feel bound by the social norms and laws that allow large numbers of humans to live peacefully together. 
We have many laws that restrict noise. The goal is to discourage purely selfish activities that produce a large negative impact on society. Arguing that people who dislike loud motorcycles dislike all motorcycles is equivalent to saying people who dislike lung cancer dislike lungs. Loud vehicle owners may like the powerful sound, perhaps they love the exhibition, some may even enjoy making “Margret and Bob” uncomfortable. They don’t care if their exhaust it is disturbing everyone around them because that is their goal - to get everyone’s attention regardless of cost to others. 
Driving a loud vehicle is a destructive, selfish act that some people decide to do, and an entire industry encourages. That’s the real issue. 

I live in the Miracle Beach area on mid Vancouver Island. Our home is located about half a kilometer from Hwy 19A, there are also a number of scenic drives in our area. From the spring to the fall our area is often being subjected to excessive noise from  motorcycle with altered exhaust systems.

I have a noise meter and measured one yesterday on  Hwy. 19 A at 82 dB A. Calculating my distance to the source measured with google maps I was 80 meters away, The math formula for this distance predicts a noise level increase to approximately 105 dB A at the source. The motorcycle did not seem to be speeding.

This is a common noise level from many motorcycles traveling Hwy.19A or the scenic drives in our area. Since paying attention and measuring noise with my noise meter, motorcycles with modified exhaust systems are by far the worst contributor to excessive noise in our area.

There are a number of signs on the highway asking for vehicles to keep noise levels at acceptable limits for residents. These signs are obviously ignored by these selfish riders who have no concern except for their ability to create excessive noise.

I am hoping that police can start to fine the offending motorcycle riders and get them to keep the noise level limit of 65 dB A set by our municipality.

Traffic noise is a huge problem. In 1997, The City of Vancouver established a City Noise Task Force that made a number of observations, followed by recommendations.

That's 26 years ago!

I haven't been able to verify if any of these recommendations have been implemented but most of them certainly not. The City of Vancouver has just finished the public engagement part of a Noise Control By-Law review. The submitted areas of concern indicate that little has changed since 1997.

And yes: loud motor bikes and muscle cars have once again been mentioned as a major complaint.

Most recommendations from 1997 included better enforcement, which remains unresolved. The easiest and most efficient way to manage traffic noise should be through regulatory means. However, the regulatory means already in place have most certainly had no effect for the simple reason that they are not being enforced. As long as there is no real penalty for driving or operating vehicles that are louder than permitted, there will be drivers who will continue to do so.

Essentially, we have a problem that should be easy to solve, but seems not to ... and largely ignored by governing bodies. With ineffective regulatory means, apparently, one might think the general public could appeal to an understanding how we're supposed to function as citizens in a city. That would include showing a level of empathy and consideration towards others and that roaring through neighbourhoods at 2 a.m. just isn't regarded being considerate. Also that seems to have failed...

Maybe most sad of all is that loud drivers are a very small minority that should be easy to regulate and manage.

The Metro Vancouver Mobility Pricing Study from May of 2018 suggests that with a growth of an estimated 1 million more people in Metro Vancouver by 2040 - just 17 years from now - this growth will result in 600,000 more cars. I'm uncertain where that number comes from but should it only be half that, I have no idea where all these cars are gonna go! But one thing is for certain: it won't help reduce traffic noise.

I have my doubts the recent Noise Control By-Law review will change anything. So the question is: what can we expect from our city officials to do about this problem? I would expect city officials take citizens seriously and listen to them ... so that we just need to find a way to make happen!

The solution reducing the number of loud vehicles lies not in policing, but insurance. Police and judges are the wrong enforcement tool, they have more imporant things to do. We simply need ICBC to stop insuring illegal vehicles. When reducing air polution was the social issue, ICBC implemented mandatory testing. The trouble was that inspecting large number of vehicles was costly, annoyed many innocent citizens, and most importantly, the testing's "hit rate" was low. As we learned from Covid, focus on testing those with obvious symptoms! It signficantly reduces testing costs by improving the test's positive rate. So let's learn from history! 

As has already been discussed in this forum at length, roadside testing of noise level is problematic. It ties up valuable policing resources and the results do not always stand up in court. However, professionally managed tests under controlled conditions are much easier to enforce in court. But to keep testing acceptable to society, how do we ensure only "suspect" vehicles are sent for testing?

(Un)fortunately, unlike exhaust air polution, exhaust noise polution is painfully obvious to everyonee. That is perhaps why BC's vehicle noise regulation implies that a vehicle can be considered "suspect" whenever the noise it creates is signficantly higher than similar vehicles as observed by your average human. Basically, anyone with functioning ears can, with a very low false positive rate, identify illegally loud vehicles. 

Given the above, a solution exists that addresses literally all the issues with other enforcement methods. I posted the solution's framework in this forum previously. We should require that ICBC host a website where anyone can register a loud vehicle complaint against a BC license plate number. ICBC can use these complaints to target facility-based, controlled-environment noise testing of "suspect" vehicles before the vehicle insurance can be renewed, or the vehicle legally sold. It is easy to create some basic website controls to prevent nuasance complaints (see my earlier post), and as Crime Stoppers has shown, annonomous tips are a well established social tool. 

After a year the number of loud vehicles on the road would drop precipitously, and the few remaining die-hards who change back their illegal exhaust after each inspection would be easy pickings for a relatively minor "on the street" police initiate. Minor compared to what it would take today at any rate. The entire program could be self-funded, costing tax payers nothing. I'd happily pay a user fee to register license plates -- the increase in my property value would more than cover it.

I should just build the website and camera app to make registering plates a simple point and click, with plate number, date, and location instantly extracted from the image file. All very doable with current technology and cell phones. Mmmm, there might be a business opportunity here! Anyone from ICBC reading this? :-)


Please get going on the point and shoot app. I don't know if I could reach back into my cycling jersey pocket fast enough to click off a couple of pics, but it would suffice if stopped and shot them. Although I would be interrupting the Zen of my ride all too often as the population of loud(sy) two wheelers has increased huge fold.