We have all heard them. Those big thundering noisy bikes that stop conversations and leave your ears ringing. Swiss police in Vaud started to crackdown on noise last year and continue to target noise polluters, especially motorcyclists.
Why are these motorbikes allowed on Swiss roads?
Some are and some are not. Switzerland has adopted EU vehicle noise rules, which are quite strict – page 344 sets out motorcycle limits. The highest noise level allowed is dB(A) 80 and limits are even lower for some vehicle categories. dB(A) 80 is the same volume as a typical alarm clock, so it is still quite loud. A lawnmower emits between dB(A) 80 and dB(A) 90.
If a motorcycle significantly exceeds the dB(A) 80 limit it has either been illegally modified or went on to the road for the first time before 1 April 1983, the date from which the current noise limits came into force. Because the limits were phased in some bikes put on the road after this date could have legal noise levels as high as dB(A) 86.
The situation in the United States
In the United States, motorcycle exhaust modification is widespread and has been targeted by numerous noise control pressure groups such as Noiseoff. The challenge for these groups is that laws in most US states don’t limit vehicle noise, and where there are laws, such as in California, many motorcyclists ignore them. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the home of Harley Davidson, the law only require vehicles to have a functioning exhaust muffler. There are no noise emission limits.
Biker noise culture
In addition, there appears to be a biker noise culture. The video below shows some Harley Davidson exhaust modifications, how they sound, and is peppered with quotes such as “We all know you are in this for the sound game”, “…you are trying to make your bike sound like a tough mother..” and “…get those eardrums ready to bleed…” The video does makes it clear that these modifications are not road legal in California.
Some of the exhaust modifications in the video emit noise approaching dB(A) 100 when idling. The dB scale is logarithmic so dB(A) 100 is 10 times louder (in sound pressure or micropascal terms) than dB(A) 80. And dB(A) 100 is while idling not while riding.
Many American motorcyclists argue the noise makes them safer, however evidence for this appears to be only anecdotal. The main counterargument is that most accidents happen from the front while the noise is emitted from the rear. US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics from 2011 showed that only 6% of accidents were due to bikes being hit from behind.
In the US, police officers describe numerous challenges around enforcing noise laws. Common ones are: a lack of noise testing devices, reoffenders who fix their exhaust get it certified and then change it back, as well as a need to focus on higher priority crimes.
Noise in Switzerland
According to 24 Heures, police in Lausanne are getting tough on noisy drivers, in particular motor cyclists. After a period of pulling riders over, informing and warning them of the rules, they started issuing penalties. Since getting serious they have made 233 anti-noise prosecutions.
“We have punished bad behaviour like vehicle modifications” said police chief Michel Blanc, head of traffic safety and parking in Lausanne. “There are people who need to show off behind the wheel of their car or on their motorbike. They want to be noticed and that means noise.” he added, “Especially between 11pm and 3am in the morning.”
Fines for noisy exhausts in Switzerland are set by the cantons. In Geneva the fine was increased last year to CHF 500. In Vaud fines are around CHF 150, rising to CHF 1,000 for repeat offenders.
Motorcycles a particular problem
“We have noticed that two thirds of modifications, essentially changes to the exhaust to increase power, are to motorcycles, probably because it’s technically easier to do than on a car” noted Michel Blanc.
After the success so far, the crackdown continues. “When a police officer sees someone run a red light, they take action immediately. I would like officers to have the same reflex when they hear a noisy vehicle” said the police chief.
Have you experienced problems with excessive motorcycle noise? If you have, let us know by commenting in the box below.