UK Government Wants Noise Detection Systems to Target Old Cars and 'Boy Racers'

Photo: Matt Cardy (Getty)

In the UK, all cars manufactured since 2016 have been legally limited to 74 decibels, as Sky News reports. It’s also illegal to modify your exhausts in order to make them louder—but, as we all know, if someone is determined to drive a roaring dragon around, they’ll go right ahead and do it. And the UK’s Transport Secretary has had enough.

The government is now setting its sights on targeting illegally loud motorcyclists, people who are driving older cars, or, as Transport Secretary Chris Grayling called them, “boy racers in souped-up vehicles”.

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What the Department for Transport has commissioned the development of an “acoustic camera” prototype that will be implemented on certain roads for the next seven months. Here’s more on how it works from the BBC:

Much like the way a speed camera works, if a microphone in an acoustic camera detects a vehicle breaching legal noise limits, it triggers a camera to take pictures of the vehicle registration number and any other relevant images to allow a fine to be sent out to the vehicle owner, the government said.

There isn’t any consensus yet on what’s going to be the maximum noise level or what the fines will be. Police forces suggest that 90 decibels is the level that becomes a “nuisance,” The Telegraph reports, which would be equivalent to a train whistle or semi traffic. That hard distinction will be made later by the DfT.

There seems to be some pretty general consensus that this is likely a good idea. Motorcycle Industry Association CEO Tony Campbell has stated that motorcyclists will “play their part”, no matter what the outcome:

With growing pressure on the environment, including noise pollution, illegal exhausts fitted by some riders attract unwanted attention to the motorcycle community and do nothing to promote the many benefits motorcycles can offer.

All manufacturers produce new motorcycles that follow strict regulations regarding noise and emissions and we welcome these trials as a potential way of detecting excessive noise in our community.

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The intention here is to reduce noise pollution, which is as bad for humans as it is for the environment. However, noise detecting cameras will likely still need work—in more rural areas (or even very congested city areas), the technology might struggle to pick up on or single out loud noises. There is, for example, a chance that the cameras might mistake one car for another in a crowded city, or it might not even register how loud a car is in a wide-open rural area.

This is, after all, just the trial period to see how the technology works and to explore what kind of noise most vehicles are emitting.

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There are still questions that need to be answered—ones that we likely won’t fully begin to understand until the cameras have been activated. Will noise detection cameras become a greedy scheme to make money, like red light cameras have been? Will it malfunction like speed cameras have been known to do? Or will the noise cameras simply set off a competition to see who has the loudest engines, like it did in Edmonton?

The press release from the government is adamant that this won’t affect good, law-abiding citizens, but merely those who “are flouting laws around noise.” The hope is that the cameras will enable authorities to actually crack down on the people blatantly breaking laws:

Currently, enforcement is mainly reactive and relies on subjective judgement. The trials of the new technology will determine whether the legal noise limit has been breached by taking into account the class and speed of the vehicle relative to the location of the noise camera.

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If the trial is successful, noise cameras would soon be implemented around the UK instead of merely in the trial areas.

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About the author

Elizabeth Blackstock

Staff writer. Motorsport fanatic. Proud owner of a 2013 Mazda 2.