Author Archives: Nigel Rodgers

NOISE CAMERAS TO CATCH DEAFENING CARS

£100 fines are now being imposed for for ear-splittingly noisy cars that break noise laws, according to The Sunday Times.

Vehicles checked by acoustic cameras are sometimes hitting 112 decibels. Councils hope penalty charges will deter the noise-mongers.

Cars have been detected making as much noise on city streets as a jet or helicopter at take-off, threatening those exposed for a long time with many stress-induced health problems including high blood pressure, hearing damage and heart attacks.

Acoustic cameras, installed for the first time across a London borough, have caught 289 motorists driving at more than 100 decibels (dB). The noisiest was a Lamborghini, at 112.9dB The legal limit is 72dBs for cars registered since 2016. Cars registered after 2007 and before 2016 should be no louder than 74dB. Exposure to more than 85dB for extended periods can cause permanent hearing loss. (An increase of 10dB on this logarithmic roughly equals a doubling of noise.)

Between June 2021 and February 2022, almost 10,000 vehicles triggered the cameras by breaking the law at four spots in Kensington and Chelsea. BMW drivers were the most common offenders, followed by Lamborghini, Mercedes, Ferrari, Audi and Land Rover drivers in that order. The scheme was extended across the borough at the end of November.

A similar scheme, which began in Westminster last month, has already caught a motorist hitting 111.1dBs. Both councils issue offenders with fixed penalty notices of £100. (They do not emergency services with sirens and those who had reasonable excuses, such as sounding their horn to prevent a collision.)

Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford, said: ‘If you were exposed to these noise levels for a long time in the workplace you would be asked to wear ear defenders…. Noise has not killed as many people as air pollution but there’s increasing documentation of the health effects this creates, with thousands of deaths by cardiovascular disease in the UK each year attributed to chronic stress created by chronic noise problems.’ Pet owners say that their dogs are also badly affected.

City centres at night now attract ‘car meets’, where groups of drivers with modified vehicles gather to perform stunts such as ‘doughnuts’. This involves skidding a car in a circle until the tyres smoke. In January, acoustic cameras installed by Westminster city council and costing about £15,000 each filmed a gathering of 100 cars performing doughnuts close to the Royal Albert Hall in the early hours. The police are investigating.

Cars are not legally permitted to make more noise than on the day they left the factory, yet Dunne says there are many loopholes for those wanting to modify their vehicles. One of the most popular ways is to add a microchip to the engine management system to boost its power and produce loud pops and bangs. ‘There’s a global sub-culture based around noise, partly in reaction against the rise of speed cameras and dash cams. We can all hear it — and we can hear that police have given up on enforcing it.’

New cars are exempt from MoTs for three years. After that, MOT testers are not currently required to measure the noise with a decibel meter but simply listen to the noise.Steve Gosling, director of 24 Acoustics, which provides the noise cameras for the two London boroughs, said there was a longstanding legal loophole that had hindered efforts to curb noise pollution: traffic noise is exempted under the 1990 Environmental Protection Act. ‘There is an enforcement chasm,’ he said. Relief may come by treating noise as a problem of antisocial behaviour. A Kensington and Chelsea councillor, Johnny Thalassites, secured a Public Spaces Protection Order after receiving hundreds of complaints from the public about disturbed sleep, stress and intimidation. He said: ‘It’s not about punishing ordinary people who are trying to get around the city to do their business. If you’re driving in a sensible way, this should not catch you out.’

A poll in The Sunday Times of 6,486 readers found that 89% agreed that councils should do more to clamp down on noisy cars and motorbikes.

AN END TO BANAL ANNOUNCEMENTS ON TRAINS?

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After years of wrecked reading and disrupted conversations or snoozes, rail passengers may finally be able to look forward to quieter carriages. Under plans being prepared by the Department for Transport, train operators will have to cut the “endless torrent” of announcements and recorded messages currently sprayed at passengers.

A “bonfire of the banalities” was promised by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, to reduce the number of redundant announcements played over train loudspeakers, including banal or contradictory messages.

The department will work with passenger groups to decide which can be cut and said that removal would start in the coming months.

However, one rail industry source said that the government does not control what announcements are made by train operators, and that it would be “crazy for it to intervene at that level”. And the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union condemned the department’s proposal as a “PR stunt by this collapsing government”.It said no passengers had complained about receiving too much information [this cannot be true] and it would fight to protect the jobs of people who made the announcements, so revealing its true priorities.

People leave bars & restaurants because of noise

Survey from the US reveals that most people avoid bars and restaurants that are very noisy.

  • A survey carried out by the American Tinnitus Association (not merely of people with tinnitus but of those with many types of hearing disability) revealed that 69% of people questioned said they had left bars, restaurants and similar places because of excessive noise. 78&% of these people would not be returning.
  • 58% actively avoid restaurants, bars, cafés, gyms and cinemas due to noise problems.
  • 66% would go out more if they could rely on finding quiet places.
  • These findings come from the United States but they are likely to apply to the UK and many similar countries too.

Quiet Hours at Tesco and M&S: tokenism or signs of real concern?

Thanks to the energy and tenacity of Hilary Browne, who would not be fobbed off by meaningless replies to her emails, both Tesco and M&S have agreed to have Quiet Hours – both have recently reinstalled piped music. For Tesco at present these moments of tranquil sanity are 9-10am on Wednesday and Saturday. Hilary has also managed, after much persuasion, to get the music turned off at her local branch in Middlesborough whenever she shops there. For Marks and Spencer the planned quiet hours are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 8-9 am and between 7-8pm. Marks and Spencer also promised to consider going completely muzak-free in the New Year. Hilary has pointed out that one hour is not enough for a a decent shop and these are all awkward times for most potential customers – early morning hours require driving through rush hour traffic, for example. She is continuing her battle undaunted. Her success shows what can be done by battling on, repeating again and again how piped music especially harms those with hearing disabilities and pleases far fewer people than it annoys. Her message is: don’t be put off by the first lot of replies.

ASDA is also introducing quiet hours and at more convenient times – 2pm-3pm – three days a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It admits that 80% of the estimated 14 million disabled people in the UK are not visibly disabled. This applies of course to everyone with a hearing problem (16% of the population) and also those with chronic problems such as Aspergers, dishphonia or autism. Such small concessions should encourage us to press for more sweeping proposals, if not this year, certainly next year!

Add your voice to Hilary’s by writing to the relevant CEOs concerned:

for Tesco this is ken.murphy@uk.tesco.com

for M&S this is steve.rowe@marks-and-spencer.com

LOUD VOCAL MUSIC IN CARS CAUSES ACCIDENTS

Recent research shows that listening to loud music in cars, especially those with loud sing-along lyrics, can cause some motorists to become ‘mentally overloaded’, increasing the risk of them driving dangerously. This is particularly true in towns, where concentration is even more essential to avoid endangering cyclists or pedestrians. Researchers said drivers should be ‘wary of using loud, lyrical music in urban environments’ because it could ‘elevate levels of activation and even aggression’, particularly in the young. Instead they recommend listening to softer instrumental music, preferably classical. So ‘boom boys’ blasting their way through streets are not only a nuisance but a danger. This may not surprise many but it is good to have it confirmed. The recent study, carried out by academics from universities of Brunel, Coventry, Surrey and King’s College London, found that about 90 per cent of motorists listened to music while driving, with loud music being particularly popular with younger men.

Direct action? Rupert Fawdry’s story

Direct action can be tempting but it can have its perils, as Rupert Fawdry’s story reveals.

‘Two policemen recently arrived at my home on a  Saturday afternoon, when I was out. This seems to be connected  to an incident last July at the Milton Keynes INTU shopping centre.  I am an 80-year-old retired Maternity Care & Gyn NHS Consultant.  I had parked my car for a short time in the open-air, 5th floor rooftop car park. There seemed to be few people around, but the massive noise of muzac was loud enough to keep patrons of hotel opposite awake and even to damage one’s hearing, especially that of elderly people. By chance I had some secateurs in my car  to cut back brambles obstructing footpaths. Rather than ignore this serious danger to health, I reached up and snipped the wiring of the three nearest loudspeakers. A few days later I tried to use the same car park but the barrier would not open for me (thus holding up several cars behind me).  After about half an hour two very fierce security men arrived. They proceeded to accuse me of criminal damage on the unlikely grounds that the unbearable loud reverberating loudspeakers were essential for use in an emergency. They called the police and I then had to wait for about an hour for two policemen to arrive.  I was interviewed in the main Milton Keynes police station. I contacted a local journalist to publicise the incident but for the present she is unable to warn the public as the matter is still sub judice. It now seems probable that my number plate was recognised by Intu when I recently used a free parking space in the open just outside the actual shopping centre, going to a restaurant in the next block, but I am a bit puzzled as to whether this constitutes trespassing on Intu property. 

Chatting later to others about the incident, almost every older person I have spoken to backs my action and wishes they were sufficiently rebellious to have done the same. One commented that if I came up with the possibility of designing a laser device to zap public Muzak loudspeakers they would help provide financial backing.  And if I do get fined they would be happy to contribute to any Crowdsource initiative to pay it off for me. ‘

Update: Rupert Fawdry was finally given a police caution in August 2021, a year after his ‘offence’.

Peace and quiet on the trains!

“There will be fewer annoying and repetitious recorded announcements,’ Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, promised in a recent white paper, as the government takes back control of the railways and privately run franchises are sidelined. The scale of the problem was illustrated on a recent journey of two hours and 33 minutes from Manchester to London. Passengers were subjected to 17 automated messages, including three helpings of what has been described as the most irritating (not to mention unhelpful to foreign visitors) slogan in the history of British transport: ‘See it, say it, sorted’. There were also four live messages, advising passengers on how to buy refreshments and urging them not to walk down the aisle unnecessarily. The train’s PA system was activated on average every seven minutes.

Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat former transport minister and a regular traveller from Lewes station in East Sussex, spoke with exasperation of the ‘inanity of announcements’ he had heard. He was once informed ‘that there is no skateboarding allowed at the station. Well, I’ve never seen someone skateboarding at the station. Maybe we’ll have an announcement that elephants aren’t allowed at the station.’ He added: ‘People seem to be incapable of having a space without filling it with noise.’ As chief executive of Transport Focus, an independent watchdog, Anthony Smith sees the comments of passengers who have felt strongly enough to submit formal complaints. Extracts from the logs include: ‘Just pure noise pollution’; ‘Buzzers going off every time the doors open and close. Trains survived without these for over a century and people managed to get on and off without difficulty.’ Another passenger spoke of his favourite: an announcement to passengers in a quiet carriage reminding them that it was meant to be quiet.

As the relevant minister clearly can decree peace and quiet in one area under government control, this example sets a precedent for demanding that the Minister for Health does the same in hospitals, banning piped music and television so that patients, the ultimate captive audience, are not tormented by inescapable noise.

Pub-goers don’t want piped music!

Only 34% of returning pub customers actually want piped music

According to a recent Yougov survey, only 34% of customers actually want to find piped music in their local pubs when they reopen next week. (Meals are what most pub-goers really want.) The other 66% of those questioned either do not care or positively dislike such added noise. As shouting over piped music helps spread the Coronavirus further – the more you exhale the greater the aerosol you produce – publicans should take note. Piped music is both unhealthy and unwanted.

Noise helps spread Covid

A recent report in JASA, the Journal for the Acoustic Society of America for 30 November 2020 confirms earlier findings (see post of 24 June 2020) that increased background noise, especially indoors, helps spread Covid-19. People who raise their voices over loud background noise exhale far more virus-laden particles than people talking softly in quiet places.  ‘Elevated vocal effort has been shown to increase emission of potentially infectious respiratory droplets, which can remain airborne for up to several hours. Multiple confirmed clusters of COVID-19 transmission were associated with settings where elevated vocal effort is generally required for communication, often due to high ambient noise levels, including crowded bars and restaurants… Clusters of COVID-19 transmission have been frequently reported in each of these settings. ‘ The JASA article did not look at the different types of background noise but piped music is often the loudest and most prevalent type of background noise. This finding ties in with the Scottish government’s attempts to get pubs and restaurants to turn off their piped music. As the pandemic has not yet abated, it seems more than ever time to mute the muzac!

Tesco’s retrograde decision

Tesco, still the largest supermarket chain in Britain, was for long free of muzac in most of its branches, except at Christmas when its stores were filled with a cacophony that upset staff and customers alike. Unfortunately its newly installed CEO Ken Murphy has recently made an ill-advised and retrograde decision to instal piped music in its renovated ‘Extra and Superstore’ branches. They have a new system to play music over the tannoy when this is not being used for announcements. They claim that ‘the feedback we have received on this has been positive’ although they ‘understand this may not be the case for all of our customers.’ This is a huge understatement.

Write to its CEO Mr Ken Murphy at ken.murphy@uk.tesco.com urging him to rethink this policy. It departs sharply from the more enlightened approach of his predecessor, who was starting to introduce ‘quiet hours’.

Point out that more people in general dislike piped music than like it, according to all impartial opinion polls. Add that people with any sort of disability – ME, Aspergers, autism, tinnitus, hyperacusis and those with general hearing problems, who make up 16% of the population – find piped music acutely distressing. Tesco could be accused of discriminating against the disabled by forcing music on its customers and on its staff. (Many people who work in shops hate piped music too but are powerless to protest.)

Add that having to wear masks makes communication far more difficult anyway.

And finally that you are likely to spend far more time and money in a quieter environment, such as that at Lidl, Aldi and Waitrose, all without piped music.