£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.