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NYC Cameras Record Car Noise Levels, Tickets Can Ensue

Photo: D.Heyman
The pilot project aims to identify and dissuade motorists whose vehicles exceed decibel limits Automotive expert , Updated:

You've all witnessed this scene at one time or another. You're standing on the sidewalk of a city street, and a vehicle passes you making a deafening, even aggressive noise. Clearly, it has been modified and is not conforming to noise-pollution by-laws.

This type of aural aggression can be very stressful, especially for people who live near busy roads. Background noise is something these folks know about and can live with, but these outbursts are something else.

New York City is looking for a solution to the noise pollution problem, and it may have one, according to a report in Road and Track magazine today. Motorists in the Big Apple could possibly receive a notice in the mail if they happen to roar through one of the intersections that now contain a special camera that records the sound vehicles are producing.

An image of such a notice, signed New York City's Department of Environmental Protection was posted recently on Facebook. It states that a BMW M3 has been fingered for exceeding noise limits. The notice reads:

“I am writing to you because your vehicle has been identified as having a muffler that is not in compliance with Section 386 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, which prohibits excessive noise from motor vehicles. Your vehicle was recorded by a camera that takes a pictures of the vehicle and the license plate. In addition, a sound meter records the decibel level as the vehicle approaches and passes the camera.”

The ordinance then asks the owner to bring their car to a location specified by the Department for an inspection. If they show up, a repair will fix the problem and the motorist avoids a fine. The document also informs the owner that if they do not show up, they face a fine of up to $875, plus additional fees if they continue to ignore the notice.

A spokesperson for the city's Department of Environmental Protection confirmed to Road & Track via email that the system is part of a small pilot project that has been underway since September 2021. The system works much like a radar that automatically records a violation and mails it to owners after recording the vehicle’s license plate. Except instead of radar, this new system uses a strategically placed sound level meter to record decibel levels on the road, matching them to a license plate with a camera.

The Department also told the magazine that the program is not related to Governor Kathy Hochul's recent initiative to reduce noise pollution in New York. In September of 2021, Hochul signed the SLEEP bill that increases fines for exhaust noise violations in the state from $150 to $1,000.

The pilot project will be re-evaluated on June 30, after which the Department will either expand it or end it.

Their findings may have an impact elsewhere, of course, including in our Canadian cities, which are all too familiar with the headache that noise pollution represents.

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Daniel Rufiange
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Daniel Rufiange
  • Over 17 years' experience as an automotive journalist
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