Noise Nuisance (Cars)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:25 pm on 27th March 2007.

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Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase 1:25 pm, 27th March 2007

Spring is here, and summer is coming. It is a time for open windows, chairs in the garden, walks in the park and quiet strolls along town and village streets. However, it is also a time when we have to endure a relentless sonic assault from what are known as boom cars. In the United States, they are also known as trunk thumpers and street pounders. They are cars with sound systems that are designed to assault our senses, invade our privacy and pulverise our neighbourhoods, and they are driven by people who have an arrogant disregard for the basic civilities of community life.

We are talking not about cars with ordinary radio or CD players that are played inconsiderately loud, but about cars with separately installed audio systems—often in the boot—producing a relentless, pounding bass beat that can be heard from streets away. The volume output, which can exceed 1,000 W, can shake windows, penetrate walls and set off car alarms. It also causes annoyance, stress and misery to everyone who has such sonic mugging inflicted on them—no doubt adding immeasurably to the satisfaction of the perpetrators.

A recent survey on traffic and vehicle noise carried out by the UK Noise Association, an organisation to which I pay tribute and with which I have worked closely, revealed that boom cars were the greatest source of annoyance to people. There is also a safety factor. Research carried out by the RAC Foundation found that drivers who were listening to loud music with a fast beat were twice as likely to go through a red light, and that they have twice as many accidents. Cocooned in their sound bubble, they are oblivious to other road users and to their general environment.

Boom car equipment is big business. As cars have become quieter, the equipment has ensured that they can become much noisier. It is true of factory fitted sound systems, and even more so of the equipment that is fitted afterwards. System manufacturers have a sales pitch that deliberately plays to its antisocial potential, feeding a culture that thinks that blasting people out of their beds is the height of cool. Sony uses the brand name "Xplod", with the slogan, "Disturb the Peace". Pioneer Electronics has the slogans, "Disturb", "Defy", "Disrupt" and "Ignite". The car audio industry is an effective lobbyist. It has organised against anti-noise legislation in the United States and has sought to defeat attempts by local communities there to act against boom cars.

So what have we done, with our armoury of antisocial behaviour legislation, our respect agenda, our extra police, our community support officers and our street wardens? What action have we taken against the antisocial menace of boom cars? That was the question that I began with, puzzled as I was bythe seeming indifference displayed by the authorities in the face of such a pervasive and unavoidable assault. I have discovered that several pieces of existing legislation might be mobilised for an attack on boom cars, but that in practice none seems to be employed robustly and consistently for that purpose.

For example, section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 deals with loudspeakers in a street and can be applied to car stereos, the test being annoyance to people in the vicinity. No enforcement agency is specified, but in practice the task falls to local authorities. However, they have no power to stop vehicles and there could be evidential problems in identifying the person responsible. There is also the Environmental Protection Act 1990, section 79 of which had a subsection added by the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993 to cover noise caused by a vehicle in a street. That subsection allows a local authority to serve an abatement notice. However, there is again no power either to stop vehicles or to require the names and addresses of drivers, and the same enforcement and evidential difficulties arise.

More recently, there has been the Police Reform Act 2002, section 59 of which enables the police to stop and seize a vehicle that is causing alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public. If a police officer observes a car with a loud stereo, the offender can be warned to turn the volume down. In what was said to be a unique action, in Bradford in 2004, a man whose car sound system regularly caused shop windows to vibrate and stationary vehicles' alarms to be activated had his car seized by police. To get the vehicle back, the owner was required to pay a fine of £105 plus VAT, as well as £12 a day for storage charges, which, if not paid within 21 days, would lead to disposal of the vehicle. Finally, there are the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, which allow the police to take action through an oral warning, a fixed penalty notice or prosecution against the drivers of excessively noisy vehicles. However, there seems to be a question whether the regulations can be applied only to the mechanical parts of vehicles or to loud audio systems, too.

We have several pieces of legislation, with several different kinds of enforcement, which could be deployed against the problem of boom cars. The effect of that seems to be that there is no systematic or effective enforcement at all. As responsibility is diffused across Government and between enforcement agencies, the problem is nobody's particular responsibility—indeed, nobody seems to want it to be. I recently asked the Home Office

"how many prosecutions were brought in each of the last five years for offences involving excessive noise from car audio systems."

I was told that although data were collected on police action for noise offences, under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, it was

"not possible to identify from the data those offences resulting from excessive noise from car audio systems."—[Hansard, 7 February 2007; Vol. 456, c. 970W.]

No mention at all was made in that answer of data on noise offences under any other legislation. There are at least three Departments involved, but no single focus for attention and action. In that respect, it is revealing that when I was approached about this debate, I was asked which Department I would like to answer. I am of course delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister here, but the answer is that I do not care which Department answers, as long as there is a commitment to effective, coherent, joined-up action across Government to deal with the menace of boom cars.

That should not be too difficult. The noise is plainly audible, the cars are visible and identifiable, and the audio equipment is fitted to produce the intended sonic effects. We need on-the-spot fines, with seizure to follow if necessary. We need action against those who manufacture and those who sell sound equipment for cars in terms of its capacity for turning quiet streets into pounding hells. Boom cars are surely one kind of antisocial behaviour that we can do something about if we really want to. We may or may not need new legislation, but we certainly need better enforcement. As we look forward to the pleasures of warmer and longer days, let us resolve to have our peace disturbed no more by the bane of boom cars.

There is one final consideration. If Governments do not act effectively against the daily incivilities inflicted by some people on everybody else, not only will such incivility grow, but its victims will draw the conclusion that Governments are either impotent or indifferent in the face of the problem. That in turn will bring consequences for both individuals and society that we would do well to try to avoid.


stinky will
Posted on 15 Apr 2007 4:43 am (Report this annotation)

It seems to me that any indifference displayed by the authorities to this non issue is simply because that is exactly what it is a non issue.sound systems for cars ie amps subs etc have been around for quite some time now, why is it only now that Mr Wright sees it as some kind of life threatening cancer, if the noise shakes windows bursts eardrums etc etc why was it not a problem in the winter the summer the winter before.

Im sorry but It sounds like a private agender to me by somebody whos stroll down their town/villages streets was ruined by some arrogant delinquent who had the audacity to drive past in a "BOOM CAR" [a what] without consulting the lord of the manor first,so that emergency supplys of earplugs could be distributed to the townspeople beforehand.Arrogant is a political party that refuses to grasp the fact that they are supported not by the country as a whole but by a % of the population which is ever dwindling in number,led by a man without the guts spine etc to fullfill his own promise which was to stay and see to the end things he had started like .....WAR for one!!!!!!!


Richard Larkins
Posted on 28 Apr 2007 4:43 pm (Report this annotation)

Thanks to Tony Wright for his research on this problem and in drawing attention to its importance.
I think there are possibly two issues here (at least).
One is the danger presented by moving cars while playing music at high volumes. This must clearly serve to distract the driver and other motorists.
The other is the problem of parked vehicles being used as what amounts to mobile discos. I live in a street where vehicles regularly park and play ear splitting music for hours at a time unless someone; usually myself; takes some action. Clearly I have survived these encounters so far but each time I challenge those involved I do fear for my safety.
Very often large groups gather round these vehicles. The noise is sometimes audible for hundreds of yards in each direction. Even when played at lower volumes the low frequencies produced by the sub woofers in these vehicles can shake window frames and even floorboards in the my house.
Using our garden during the summer with any degree of pleasure becomes impossible. What is particularly galling is that these are not my neighbours having the odd party but people who live elsewhere.
I actually see very little chance of this problem being solved by taking action against individual perpetrators. The Police are no longer concerned with noise issues apparently and by the time Environmental Health Officers turn up (if at all) the perpetrators have moved on.

I believe the main solution is severe restraints being put on the power of amplifers and size of speakers allowed in vehicles. Perhaps this coulld be part of the conditions of roadworthyness/MOT etc.
I would also like to see legislation prohibiting the playing of music in parked cars that can be heard outside of the vehicle or at least more than a few feet from it.

Alans Mendies
Posted on 25 Oct 2007 6:31 pm (Report this annotation)

I believe that somthing needs to be done now to stop noise nusance from cars. We have been plagued for years now by noise nusance in our home and the police are slow to act when this nusance is reported. I do not know any LAW ABIDING person who enjoys the noise of other peoples Exhausts systems or Booming Stereo systems. The only people who are impressed by this behaviour are badly brought up youths or Adults who have yet to grow up. I also cannot understand how you can be fined for having a blown exhaust, yet an illegal exhaust creating more noise is ok??
Is the goverment scared or dealing this problem for the fear of loosing votes at an ellection? Let me tell you that most of the people I know would vote for any goverment who deals with problems like these. We all deserve some peace and quite dont we?