Not such a sound idea: ‘Noise camera’ fines for loud exhausts won’t be dropping through your door any time soon!

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Last month Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that a new trial of noise cameras aimed at catching drivers and riders with loud exhausts will run across four areas in England and Wales. 

While that conjures images of fixed penalty notices dropping onto doormats whenever an illegally loud exhaust is detected, the reality is that noise is a far more complex issue than speed in terms of detection, proof that an offence has taken place and identification of the offender. We’re still a long way from the point where fines for loud pipes could be handed out automatically.  

The trial will be run by the Atkins-Jacobs joint venture, with £300,000 of Government investment into the technology. The same venture operated a limited noise camera trial in late 2019 that highlighted some of the problems around noise detection. 

noise-camera-minister

While all modern vehicles are type-approved to meet noise levels at the time they’re built, they’re measured in very controlled circumstances. Microphones are carefully placed, background noise levels minimised, and specific rules about revs, speed, gear, acceleration, road surface and weather are met.  

Roadside cameras can’t replicate those controlled conditions, with Atkins-Jacobs’ 2019 report saying that for motorcycles: “An error of 0.1m in the placement of the microphone can alter the [noise] level by up to 1.5dB.” 

The same trial suggested “any further development or trials of noise cameras should consider the use of a microphone array” – and that’s precisely what’s used in the ‘Medusa’ system being trialled in Paris. Medusa uses four microphones to triangulate the source of a sound, allowing it to pinpoint a noisy vehicle and visually plot a track of its path. The company is now working on a ‘Hydra’ prototype that develops the idea with the intention of allowing automatic enforcement. 

how-it-would-work

Over the years, type-approval rules have changed, reducing noise limits, so more modern cars and bikes need to meet different standards to older ones, so there aren’t even a fixed set of goalposts. 

For an automated camera, additional problems arise in identifying which vehicle is noisy. On busy roads, with traffic running in two directions and multiple lanes, it’s a challenge. 

The result is that the ‘speed camera’ comparison is misleading. In reality, they’re an evidence-gatherer: when a particular vehicle is substantially louder than those around it that could trigger a rectification notice to be sent to the owner, or the evidence put aside for police investigation, but to achieve more than that would be an expensive technological challenge that’ll never recoup the sort of revenues that drove the development of speed cameras. 

Are bikes being unfairly targeted? 

In the DfT’s minute-long video presenting this year’s noise camera trials, a BMW K1200S is the main vehicle used to illustrate the problem of exhaust noise, yet during previous trials bikes have barely registered in the figures. 

During a 12-day trial in two locations in late 2019, Atkins-Jacobs’ prototype noise cameras were passed by 61,843 vehicles. Of those, 870 noisy vehicles were identified via ANPR, and just four of them were bikes, despite one of the camera sites – on the A32 at West Meon, Hampshire – being specifically chosen due to a nearby weekly bike meet at Loomies Moto Café. 

As a result, the system’s abilities in motorcycle detection were listed as “limited but resolvable” and no robust conclusions about noise camera effectiveness in detecting bikes could be drawn. 


DFT announce noise camera trial in England and Wales this summer to tackle illegal exhausts and revving engines

First published on 02 May, 2022 by Dan Sutherland

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is encouraging residents sick of listening to noisy exhausts to contact their local MP to take part in new noise camera trials this summer.

Four areas across England and Wales will be chosen to trial the new £300,000 technology, which can automatically detect cars and bikes breaking noise requirements and provide real-time reports that police can use as evidence.

“We want those in Britain’s noisiest streets, who are kept up at night by unbearable revving engines and noisy exhausts, to come forward with the help of volunteer areas to test and perfect the latest innovative technology,” Grant Shapps MP said.

“For too long, rowdy drivers have been able to get away with disturbing our communities with illegal noisy vehicles.”

With the technology still in its design phase, MPs are now being invited to submit applications to take part in the trials – the latest stage of a three-year programme to develop the camera systems.

Grant Shapps with the noise cameras being trialled

The trial is being led by the Atkins-Jacobs Joint Venture, with Director Andrew Pearce saying: “Testing different noise measurement technologies with a range of vehicles in this controlled environment means we can ensure tickets are only sent to drivers with illegal and antisocial cars or bikes.

“Highway authorities will be able to automate noise enforcement and get on top of the problem without using up valuable police resources.”

Existing legislation requires exhausts and silencers to be in good working order and not altered to increase noise. Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Section 42) the potential penalty for not following this is a £50 on-the-spot fine.

Noise Abatement Society chief executive Gloria Elliott OBE, added: “Excessively noisy vehicles cause unnecessary disturbance, stress and anxiety to many and, in some cases, physical pain. They disrupt the environment and people’s peaceful enjoyment of their homes and public places.

“Communities across the UK are increasingly suffering from this entirely avoidable blight. The Noise Abatement Society applauds rigorous, evidence-based solutions to address this issue and protect the public.”


Campaigners want motorcyclists to pipe down at biking beauty spots

First published on 12 May, 2021 by Phil West

Bikers have been asked to calm down in beauty spots

As lockdown measures ease, the weather improves and bikers increasingly head out to enjoy the countryside and biker meeting spots, a rural campaign group is again urging motorcyclists to ‘slow down and tone it down’.

‘CANS’ (‘Councils Against Noise and Speed’) was set up last year by villagers in rural areas of Lancashire, Cumbria and North Yorkshire which covers what’s known as the ‘Devil’s Bridge triangle’ – a highly popular biking area.

Hamish Wilson, chairman of the group, said: “We don’t want motorcycles banned and aren’t asking riders to stay away; we are simply asking for the minority who are tempted to speed on rural roads or use excessively loud exhausts to respect our communities and their way of life.”

CANS comprises representatives of 13 councils in the areas covered by popular rideout routes linking Kirkby Lonsdale, Sedbergh, Hawes and Ingleton. The scenic area, which includes parts of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Lune Valley, has already seen regional police hold ‘action days’ to tackle both motorbike and car offences in the worst hit areas and more are planned.

In the most recent crackdown over the Easter weekend five bikes and three cars were seized by the police with charges brought including defective/modified exhausts, speeding and crossing solid white lines. Several riders were also injured in accidents in the area during the same weekend.

Wilson added: “We don’t mind motorcyclists enjoying the area but not to the detriment of other visitors and residents.”


Loud pipes save lives ‘is a false statement’ according to Romanian study

First published on 29 March, 2021 by Ben Clarke

A Romanian motorcyclists’ organisation has tried to get to the bottom of the debate surrounding loud bike exhausts with a series of experiments.

MotoADN teamed up with Politehnica University of Bucharest and environmental noise specialists Enviro Consult to see if the volume of a motorcycle’s exhaust made it more noticeable to a car driver.

The experiment involved redlining motorbikes at varying distances behind, level with and in front of a stationary car. The car had the engine running and different volume levels of music played to replicate real world conditions. A decibel meter inside the vehicle cabin was used to measure how much of the motorbike’s engine sound could be perceived.

The results showed that at a distance of 15 metres behind a car the driver won’t be able to hear a motorcycle exhaust. At 10 metres, a loud bike can be heard but at frequencies so low that a human ear will struggle to work out where the sound is coming from.

Loud exhaust

In fact, the study found that a driver will only become aware of the loud exhaust noise when it draws level with and then passes the car, by which time it is too late to have an effect.

The study also concluded that in order for a bike to be heard from 15 metres behind a car it would need to be producing over 135dB (a jet plane taking off produces around 120dB).

“Loud pipes save lives is a false statement,” said the study. “Sound produced by a motorcycle is not heard by the drivers of the cars in front or is heard too late in order to be able to influence the driver’s decision.

“What do we have left? Let’s be seen, not heard, and this can be done by respecting everything the rules imposed by defensive driving. Bonus, we’ll have a lot less headaches and not disturb the other road users.”


The baffle of Britain: Noisy exhausts are back in the spotlight – but is the negative attention fair?

First published on July 22, 2020 by Ben Clarke

Measuring the sound from a motorcycle

Loud pipes and their effect on the public’s perception of motorbikes is an issue that’s been brewing for decades, but the combination of a lockdown, empty roads and an early summer has brought it screaming back into the political limelight.

And the issue has started to appear in the mainstream media, too. An article from The Times on July 8 says, “it’s time the decibels were reduced” and brands motorcycles as “unnecessarily loud”.

Nowhere is the tension more palpable than North Yorkshire, where a local outcry has led the Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, to issue a statement on the topic.

“I am aware of the impact that loud motorcycles have for communities across North Yorkshire and, as people return to the county, this has been a particular problem raised with me,” she said.

“From loud noise from motorcycles, to speeding through our rural communities… I know police officers are determined to address these issues.”

The noise level of motorbikes has also been an underlying theme in other public matters and decisions taken across the UK. Back in April, an Oxfordshire County Council document referred to bikes making a “substantial contribution to noise pollution”, while in Brighton Cllr Jamie Lloyd referred to “the deafening roar of motorbikes” in a council meeting about the fate of Madeira Drive.

MCN has been deluged with feedback from riders and residents in recent weeks on the negative impact of loud pipes and riders speeding through villages.

Police stop a biker

Nick Broomhall of the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) is well aware of the damage illegal exhausts can do to the reputation of bikers. “Unfortunately, for many government officials, the word ‘motorcycle’ instantly creates an image of a vehicle that is noisy and dangerous and is therefore something that has no place in their plans, a view that is reinforced every time an illegal exhaust is heard,” he said.

“Loud pipes don’t save lives, they turn ambivalent citizens into powered two-wheeler-haters and help those who would like to see bike use restricted or outlawed.”

The long-term effect of this political scrutiny could be restrictive and damaging for all bikers. Not only do excessively loud bikes add weight to calls for lower speed limits in biking hotspots, but so-called ‘noise cameras’ have been trialled in the UK and rolled out in France.

Authorities in one Austrian district have banned motorcycles louder than 95dB from selected roads between June 10 and the end of October. Because of the way that homologation noise tests are carried out – by measuring the noise within set parameters rather than the maximum noise emitted – many standard machines exceed the 95dB limit, so even law-abiding riders fall foul of the ban.

How long will it be before our politicians consider something similar? Watch this space.

What do the police say?

PC Paul Ennis

Lifelong biker, PC Paul Ennis is an officer with the Central Motorway Police Group.

“The problem is that if there are enough complaints from the public we’ll have to start clamping down on noisy exhausts. The law is very clear and we’ve got powers under the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and in relation to antisocial behaviour, specifically around excessive noise causing distress, under the Police Reform Act.

“A lot of officers, including myself, are bikers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a legal, aftermarket exhaust. But owners know themselves if they’re pushing it because they’ve removed baffles or have a system marked ‘not for road use’. If we can all work together and be sensible it would benefit bikers, the police and the public.”

How does noise regulation work?

Markings indicate whether an exhaust is road legal

In the UK, the noise limit for a motorbike is set at 80dB, with an extra 6dB added to account for mechanical noise. This figure matches the 80dB maximum allowed for in European homologation rules, but this is measured in a very specific way as a ride-by at 50kph.

Standard bikes can register higher noise levels in static tests or at higher speeds but still make the required standard for going on sale. This is how standard bikes can end up failing trackday noise tests, and could also lead to law-abiding bikers falling foul of noise limit bans, like in Austria.


Noise cameras rolled out in France

First published on September 2, 2019 by Dan Sutherland

Loud exhaust

A French town on the outskirts of Paris Orly airport has begun tackling loud motorcycle exhausts, by installing a ‘noise radar’ capable of identifying the offending vehicle, pinpointing their location and automatically issuing a ticket.

Located in the centre of Villeneuve-le-Roi, as reported by Reuters, the system is set to go live once a law permitting the technology is passed, with the device linked to Police CCTV cameras in order to automatically issue fines. 

Much like the UK, France already employ a noise vehicle limit, however it relies on the police’s ability to catch them in the act.

Created by Bruitparif, This new system instead uses four microphones to measure decibel levels every tenth of a second. This can then be used to track the original source of the noise, illustrated as a series of coloured dots behind the machine, known as ‘acoustic wake.’

Away from the urban sprawl, noise is now also being tracked in the hills of Saint-Forget, outside Paris. A popular route with bikers, a further two devices are set to be installed in central Paris in September.


Noise cameras to be tested in UK in a bid to cut down on illegal exhausts

First published on June 8, 2019 by Ben Clarke

Yamaha Thundercat

The Department for Transport has this morning announced that they will be trialling new ‘noise cameras’ designed to crack down on motorists breaching legal volume limits.

The cameras will be tested at several locations over the next seven months and, if successful, could be further developed across the UK.

Aimed at drivers and motorcyclists with illegal exhausts, as well as those that rev their vehicles excessively, a microphone will record the sound of a passing vehicle, before ANPR and video and image capturing cameras collect visual evidence against the offending machine.

Speaking about the new initiative, Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling said: “Noise pollution makes the lives of people in communities across Britain an absolute misery and has very serious health impacts.

Noise camera diagram

“This is why I am determined to crack down on the nuisance drivers who blight our streets,” He added. “New technology will help us lead the way in making our towns and cities quieter, and I look forward to seeing how these exciting new cameras could work.”

Enforcing legal noise limits is currently done subjectively by patrolling police officers, however these new systems will be able to determine whether the law has been breached by taking into account the class and speed of vehicle, relative to the camera’s location.

CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Association, Tony Campbell, also said: “With growing pressure on the environment, including noise pollution, illegal exhausts fitted by some riders attract unwanted attention to the motorcycle community and do nothing to promote the many benefits motorcycles can offer.

“All manufacturers produce new motorcycles that follow strict regulations regarding noise and emissions and we welcome these trials as a potential way of detecting excessive noise in our community.”

The trial comes after studies revealed that continuous long-term exposure to noise can cause both physical and mental health implications, with stress and high blood pressure being just two of the conditions linked.

Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis