2012-02-10 / Letters

It Ought To Be A Law

Dear Editor,

There ought to be a law against loud motorcycles disturbing the peace – wait a minute – there already is!

New York State Vehicle and Traffic law states: “No person shall operate a motorcycle on any highway which is not equipped with a muffler to prevent excessive or unusual noise, equipped with a muffler from which the baffle plates, screens or other original internal parts have been removed or altered, or equipped with an exhaust system that has been modified in a manner that will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the motor of such vehicle.”

The law says nothing whatsoever about absolute noise volume or decibel levels. Any alteration of a motorcycle’s exhaust system to make it louder, by itself, constitutes a violation that warrants issuance of a traffic citation.

Let’s state the obvious: most of the motorcycles on the road today are loud. It’s all part of some fad that started only a few years ago. “Loud pipes save lives” is the mantra of these bikers.

In fact, there isn’t a shred of evidence from a single transportation study, traffic safety board or law enforcement entity that supports the contention that loud exhaust on motorcycles provides an iota of additional protection for the rider.

It’s important to realize that if a motorcycle is loud, it’s only because its exhaust system has been illegally modified. Motorcycles, even Harleys, start out quiet when they leave the factory. That’s because they come equipped with an “OEM” exhaust system, which stands for “Original Equipment Manufacturer.” The standards for OEM exhaust system parts are strictly regulated by the federal government to be at a certain sound level, approximately the same volume as any car or truck that drives down the street.

If a motorcycle is loud, it’s because the OEM exhaust system has been converted or removed, and an “aftermarket” kit used to change or replace the original muffler. That makes it illegal, not because of the decibels, but because the exhaust system has been tampered with.

Decades ago, the federal government initiated a sticker program by which a road patrol can quickly determine if a suspect motorcycle is in violation. Two labels are affixed to the motorcycle at the factory, one on the chassis and the other on the muffler, which match up if the motorcycle retains its original exhaust system.

A traffic enforcement officer can make a determination as easily as he or she notes the expiration date on a windshield inspection sticker.

Last month, New York State Police First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Gagan hosted an on-line public information chat session on traffic safety issues.

When asked why state troopers do not enforce motorcycle noise traffic law, Gagan responded that, “While we recognize this as a quality of life issue, we focus our efforts on violations that impact safety, such as use of ‘novelty’ helmets.“

In this respect, Sup. Gagan has it wrong. Numerous medical studies have proven that loud, intermittent noise is a proven stress inducer, and linked it to heart disease, high blood pressure, gastric ulcers, lower birth weight babies and even increased incidence of violent behavior in neighborhoods frequently subjected to it. Incidentally, any motorcycle enthusiast will tell you that having a loud, altered exhaust system is no impediment to passing New York State inspection.

Not to get Freudian about it, but drawing attention to oneself, appearing “cool,“ non-conformist and rebellious by virtue of one’s loud Harley motorcycle, Harley T-shirt, Harley saddlebag, Harley belt buckle, Harleykey chain, Harley tattoo and Harley bumper sticker on the spouse’s minivan, is really what the obnoxious loud muffler phenomenon is all about, not safety.

There’s no reason why our daily lives need to be punctuated by this unhealthy, intrusive noise, and loud motorcycle racket serve as a backdrop to our New York State summers. It’s time for the police to enforce existing traffic law and curtail loud motorcycles.


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