A New York City Council member has introduced a bill this week to combat excessively noisy motor vehicles across the five boroughs. Central to his plan would be the use of noise-detecting technology that captures the intensity of loud sounds from a vehicle and identifies the responsible party so the NYPD can fine them.
Manhattan Councilmember Ben Kallos, representing the 5th Council District that covers the Upper East Side, introduced the measure at a Council meeting on Thursday. The bill bears similarities to the 2013 law introducing speed cameras, which snap photos of delinquent drivers going above the legal speed limit and sending a fine via mail. Kallos’s bill would require the use of sound devices installed on city property accompanied with a camera to capture sounds above a certain threshold. An image of the vehicle will be sent to the NYPD, which will then issue a summons, according to the bill. Kallos's bill was first reported by WABC-TV.
"That is everything from somebody leaning into a car horn in anger, as people all over the world might be aware of, to something more unique like people driving down a city street with their windows open, blasting music so loud that your windows start shaking," Kallos, whose term ends in December, told Gothamist/WNYC. Kallos’s bill does not specify what decible threshold would constitute a noise violation, but he said the bill would “set some standards.”
Under the proposal, owners can be hit with a fine between $150 to $525 for the first violation; $300 to $1,050 for a second offense; and $450 to $1,575 for any violation after that.
Kallos said noise radar technology that's installed in parts of Europe will be central to the program. Such technology has been piloted in a Paris suburb since 2019. According to Reuters, the radar features "four microphones that measure decibel levels every tenth of a second and can triangulate where a sound originates." The radar is accompanied with a screen pinpointing the origin of a sound wave. In his research, Kallos called the noise radar equipment "best in class" technology.
"This is not going to stop a person from walking down the street in the classic 80s way of having a boombox over their shoulder. This is not going to stop somebody from setting up a speaker in a nearby park or sidewalk and grilling and barbecuing," Kallos said. "This is only for vehicles."
The noise has particularly troubled longtime Upper East Side resident David Gingold. In a statement, Gingold called loud motor vehicle sound "absolutely beyond any level that can be permitted."
"Around the clock it sounds like I have a front seat at Daytona Raceway," Gingold said. "The noise is unbearable!"
The bill would allow each Council member to identity any noisy hotspots at potential sites to install the technology.
Kallos hopes to specifically target drivers whose vehicle mufflers have been customized to produce a loud, jarring sound akin. He's noticed these vehicles are more prevalent during the pandemic, reducing the quality of for New Yorkers. In his release, Kallos called loud drivers "assholes," producing a sound comparable to "machine guns" that "wake everybody up."
But Kallos concedes that while the bill might curtail licensed drivers with registered vehicles, it can't curtail the use of dirt bikes across the city. That's because these dirt bikes are illegal and difficult to track down by the NYPD.
According to a press release issued by Kallos's office, using publicly available city data, vehicle-related noise complaints increased from 61,493 complaints between August 1st of 2019 and August 1st 2020 to 99,261 between August 1st 2020 and August 1st 2021.
In 2018, the World Health Organization released new guidelines to combat extreme noise, arguing loud sounds, including those produced by vehicles, can "disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour."
For Kallos, the bill was partly inspired by his own personal experience, having witnessed how much his daughter has grown to resent them.
"She used to love motorcycles, but they drive by every night, they wake her up and I'm just like, 'how do I get her back to sleep?'' he said. "At this point she says, 'yucky motorcycle.'"