COUNCIL COMMENT - Motorcycles: how loud is too loud?

"I have often lamented that we cannot close our ears with as much ease as we can our eyes."

- Richard Steele

Sometimes a sincere question can result in a news item. Coun. Pat Wallace knows this as well as anyone. When she was asked by a resident about excessive motorcycle noise she was also advised that the City of Edmonton had passed its own bylaw regulating noisy vehicles (including motorcycles).

This, in turn, was interpreted by some as the City embarking on new noise regulations including a crackdown on motorcyclists. I've already seen a couple of angry letters to the editor basically asserting that Kamloops has started on this regulatory path. In reality, this matter has not progressed beyond the level of a councillor enquiry.

As creatures of provincial statute, municipalities in Alberta can have different roles and responsibilities versus cities and towns in British Columbia. Edmonton appears to have the right to regulate motorcycle noise and their web page makes it clear that motorcycles cannot be louder than 92 decibels at idle and 95 decibels at 2000 rpm.

When it comes to the control of motor vehicles, municipalities have certain delegated powers in British Columbia. However, they mostly relate to the placement of traffic lights, other traffic control devices and speed (school) zone limits. Authority for vehicle noise appears to remain with the province. The Motor Vehicle Act regulations state: "A motor vehicle propelled by an internal combustion engine shall be equipped with an exhaust muffler consisting of a series of pipes or chambers which ensures that the exhaust gases from the engine are cooled and expelled without excessive noise."

The legislation goes on to define excessive noise (for a motorcycle) as that exceeding 91 decibels. The legislation makes no distinction between noise at idle and when the engine is turning faster. This measure is generally taken from a distance of one meter from the exhaust out port. In addition, vehicle owners are not allowed to operate without a connected muffler and the removal of baffles or other parts from the muffler is prohibited.

So, the short answer to Pat's question is that the City of Kamloops probably can't draft its own vehicle noise bylaw but the existing regulations in our province are already stricter than what has been enacted in Edmonton.

The city does have a general noise bylaw that deals with a wide array of situations from loud music to construction activity. We don't spell out measured decibel levels from a prescribed distance. I won't go into that in any detail, but it is available on the City of Kamloops web page.

The next obvious question is what 91 decibels means in real world terms. WorkSafe BC, formerly known as the Workers Compensation Board, gives us some real world examples of noise exposure that can serve as a benchmark. Hearing protection is mandatory for any worker exposed to noise levels above 82 decibels because long term, unprotected exposure to sound levels above this level can result in hearing damage.

Also, decibel measurement is on a logarithmic scale, not on a straight line scale. What this means is that each jump in decibel level represents a more significant jump in noise level.

A typical conversation with somebody facing you at a distance of one meter produces sound pressure (expressed as dbA) of 40 60 decibels. Kitchen workers in a fast food restaurant are exposed to noise averaging around 81 decibels. A road construction labourer averages noise exposure of 86 decibels and a typical building construction worker faces noise levels at around 90 decibels, which is basically the loudest noise level at which a motorcycle is permitted to operate. So if a motorcycle sounds louder than a busy construction site, it is probably operating outside the noise regulations in the Motor Vehicle Act.

Workers operating machinery like rock crushers or jackhammers are routinely exposed to noise levels above 100 decibels and the generally accepted noise level where hearing damage is possible after even a few hours is 120 decibels. This is the sound level directly in front of the speakers at a major rock concert. Most people start to experience pain when exposed to noise levels above 125 decibels. In case you were interested (and I hope you never experience it first hand), a stun grenade produces sound at about 175 decibels.

We don't generally tell our local RCMP how to do their job but I would be interested in knowing how important vehicle noise levels are to you. Should we be equipping our police officers with more sound meters and requesting this be treated as a priority? I would appreciate hearing from you ... . but not louder than 50 decibels or so.

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