Traffic Cameras in New York Are Listening for Illegally Loud Vehicles

Photo:  Jenn Moreno (Getty Images)
Photo: Jenn Moreno (Getty Images)

New York City is expanding the use of traffic cameras equipped with sound meters to catch cars and motorcycles that make excess noise. These new video and audio devices record the license plates of offending vehicles as they loudly drive by, in the same way that roadside cameras snap photos of speeding cars, as the Associated Press reports. Fines for illegally loud bikes and cars can go up to $2,625, prompting some car enthusiasts in New York to push back, as they think the city is going too far.

The wider rollout of these sound-sensitive cameras comes after a yearlong pilot program that saw at least 71 drivers ticketed for loud pipes. The traffic cams are being installed in new locations as part of the Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution Act, which went into effect last spring. City officials didn’t say where the traffic cameras from the pilot program are located, but new cameras are going up in areas including Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Hudson Square, Flatiron, Times Square, the Theater District, and the Garment District.

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New York City already has some of the strictest rules relating to excess noise in the U.S., according to the AP, but the SLEEP Act introduced steeper fines for drivers who modified their vehicle’s exhaust systems to make more noise. The law will also target auto shops that sell or install illegal exhaust modifications for cars and motorcycles alike. The state law is meant to be a thorough revision of the current rules, which officials argue don’t do enough to discourage illegally loud vehicles — either because fines are too low, or the rules are rarely enforced as police aren’t particularly focused on stopping noisy cars.

So, rather than divert the attention of police away from other crimes, the new traffic cams automate the process: drivers caught by the sound meters receive a a fine of $800 for a first offense, and the amount goes up to $2,625 if drivers “ignore a third-offense hearing,” per the AP.

The higher fines prompted a 30-year old car enthusiast from the Bronx, Phillip Franklin, to start a petition against the SLEEP Act. Among the complaints cited in the petition, Franklin says the law is biased against cars because it gives loud motorcycles slightly more leeway when it comes to noise pollution. But the crux of Franklin’s argument is that noise is a part of daily life in New York City, and that louder exhausts are are actually safer for motorists and pedestrians alike. Basically, Franklin is saying that loud pipes save lives; the petition has garnered less than 1,500 signatures as of Monday.

But the research seems to say that loud pipes, in fact, do not save lives. Agencies around the world and in the U.S. have cited studies that link excess sound and noise pollution with chronic health disease. The use of traffic cameras that can also listen is becoming mainstream in few places abroad and at home, such as in Paris, cities around California, and, now, New York City.

Photo:  Jakub Porzycki (Getty Images)
Photo: Jakub Porzycki (Getty Images)

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