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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Is your car louder than a blender? There is a new way to get a ticket and it may be costly.

    Up until last year, Laurie Julian would have described her Bloomfield home as “peaceful,” “tranquil” even, but today, Julian said excessive vehicle noise has left her residential street sounding more like the “Berlin Turnpike,” a “motor speedway,” or, her favorite descriptor, a “monster truck show.”

    It’s a growing problem — residents across the state say roaring engines and thundering exhausts have become a deafening nuisance, but Julian is hopeful that new legislation authorizing the installation of noise-activated traffic enforcement cameras will turn the growing trend around.

    A new measure, passed as part of the state bond package this month, allows municipalities to install automated “noise cameras” to detect, photograph and ticket motorists when their vehicles exceed 80 decibels.

    Surpassing that sound limit, which runs in the same league as a blender, hairdryer or old vacuum cleaner, will result in a written warning for first-time offenders, a $100 fine for a second offense and $250 fines for subsequent violations.

    Julian hopes the fines will be enough to deter motorists from installing illicit aftermarket mufflers that produce an illegally loud level of noise and offer the police a new method of cracking down on violators.

    Opponents say that similar traffic enforcement tools like red light and speed cameras disproportionately impact minority communities. Other critics say that the emerging audio technology leaves too much room for error and could potentially slap non-violating motorists with a ticket.

    But Julian said something has to be done to stop the “unsustainable” level of noise on Connecticut roads.

    “It can start as early as 5:30 in the morning with the commuter traffic,” Julian said. “Our street, it never had these issues.”

    “You can’t get decent sleep because you’re awoken in the morning,” Julian added. “It gives you a sense of stress and you never know when you’re going to start hearing that sound again.”

    Betsy Gara, the executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns said Julian’s experience is not uncommon.

    Gara said she has received reports of cars outfitted with after-market accessories that produce popping sounds that imitate gunfire, alarming residents.

    “In the last year or so it seems to have become a popular fad where individuals are illegally modifying mufflers and exhaust systems to make sure that their car can be as loud as possible,” Gara said. “We’re starting to hear from more residents in our towns that they are fed up with these cars screaming through their neighborhoods at all times of day or night.”

    Gara described the cameras as a potential game changer for municipalities.

    “It gives towns an important tool in the toolbox to be able to address residents’ concerns without overburdening local law enforcement,” Gara said.

    But Christian Robinson, the senior director of state government affairs for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, cautioned that too much automation can put drivers at risk.

    Robinson said SEMA, a trade association that represents members of the specialty parts and accessories industry, believes noise cameras “should be studied for effectiveness before tickets are sent to motorists.”

    “Our concerns stem from where the technology is presently,” Robinson said. “I think ultimately these cameras aren’t ready for prime time when you’re issuing fines.”

    Robinson said the audio-triggered technology requires human review, which can cause problems in a scenario where the camera captures multiple vehicles in an intersection at the same time.

    “They basically have to use their judgment to determine which vehicle was the violator, and this can often lead to subjectivity as to who will ultimately receive a fine in the mail,” Robinson said.

    He explained that environmental factors can also play an adverse role.

    “If (a camera system) is placed in an urban setting, you will have buildings with reflective surfaces that can amplify the amount of noise that is being put out,” Robinson said.

    Existing exhaust laws in Connecticut mandate that vehicles driving at or above 35 miles per hour may not exceed 84 decibels for a vehicle manufactured prior to 1979 and 81 decibels for vehicles manufactured after 1979.

    Under the new legislation, Robinson said “It’s possible that you could have unmodified vehicles getting swept up in this,” based on their sound output which can range from 70 to the 90s.

    Robinson said SEMA recommends a decibel enforcement model similar to California that involves more scientific testing methods.

    “We don’t have an issue with states setting decibel levels for exhaust noise. In fact, we would urge every single state to issue a law that’s one decibel level for motor vehicles,” Robinson said. “The caveat is that you need a fair and objective way to determine if that threshold has been broken.”

    “In our estimation, this is just an unfair way of enforcing the law,” Robinson said.

    Despite concerns from motor enthusiasts, cities across the globe have turned to noise cameras as an effective method for enforcing sound ordinances.

    In December, after a successful pilot period, New York City expanded its own program, installing five noise cameras in each of the five boroughs for $35,000 a pop. Fines for violations start at $800 and go all the way up to $2,500. The City Council issued the measure after the rate of noise complaints jumped 241% between 2019 and 2022, according to local data.

    The new Connecticut legislation is still awaiting the governor’s signature. Once signed into law, Gara said municipalities will need to adopt their own ordinances before rolling out the program.

    “As towns and the residents hear more about it, I think you are going to see some towns decide that this is worth it. It’s worth purchasing these noise cameras  … and trying to deter people from modifying their mufflers and roaring through the neighborhoods at all hours of the night,” Gara said. “We’re probably not going to see them any time soon, but hopefully in the next couple of months, we’ll get some information on how towns are using them and how successful they’ve been.”

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