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Why are motorcycles so loud, and why aren’t riders ticketed for noise violations?

David Reynolds

(This answer was updated by Brian Freskos on Jan. 20, 2011.)

“The reason why motorcycles are loud is because riders and unscrupulous dealers change out the factory exhaust system for aftermarket exhaust systems that do not meet EPA regulations for noise emissions. As a result, a modified motorcycle can sound ten times (literally, as sound is measured logarithmically) as loud as a stock motorcycle,” NoiseOff.org, an organization trying to reduce noise pollution, wrote in an e-mail to the StarNews.

Indeed, James Pinkney Jr., a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the EPA put emission standards into effect in 1982, requiring that manufacturers produce exhaust systems that comply with specified noise limits. NoiseOff.org said the current standard is 80bB(a).

The federal standards also require permanent labels on both the motorcycle frame and its exhaust system, the primary noise reduction component. NoiseOff.org said the label is a certification that can be used to prove compliance in enforcement.

“The regulations also prohibit any person from tampering with noise control components or systems, except for purposes of replacement, repair or maintenance,” Pinkney wrote. “Tampering includes the removal or rendering inoperative of any noise control device or element of design incorporated into new vehicles prior to their sale or delivery to the ultimate purchaser. It also prohibits the use of the vehicle after such device or element of design has been removed or rendered inoperative by any person. Tampering is punishable by fines of up to $10,000 per day of violation.”

When Congress passed the Noise Control Act of 1972, lawmakers concluded that primary responsibility for controlling noise rests with state and local governments, “while federal action is essential to deal with major noise sources where national uniformity of treatment is required,” Pinkney said.

In other words, while noise emission limits are a federal law, it’s up to state and local governments to enforce them.

“As you may know, the U.S. Congress has not provided the EPA with an appropriation or authorization to maintain its Office of Noise Abatement and Control since 1982 ,” Pinkney said. “Therefore, the agency does not have the resources to routinely check on motorcycle or muffler manufacturers to determine compliance with our regulations, nor does it have the capability to monitor for and enforce its anti-tampering regulation.”

NoiseOff.org also noted that motorcycle organizations often pressure legislators and police to weaken noise regulations and enforcement. “As a result, legislation intended to protect the communities from noise pollution are sufficiently weakened,” the organization said.

Related links:

Are there any laws regarding extremely loud tailpipes on cars and loud music in cars?

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10 Responses to “ Why are motorcycles so loud, and why aren’t riders ticketed for noise violations?”

  1. On October 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm a f wrote:

    Although this story tries to perpetuate the myth that bikers have a right to install exhaust systems that aren’t EPA certified, the truth is that no biker has a right to replace the EPA certified exhaust system with one that isn’t certified. Since 1983, all motorcycles must have an EPA noise compliance label attached to the chassis and a matching label stamped into the muffler. It’s a violation of federal law to replace the certified muffler with one that isn’t. Denver, Green Bay, Boston and East Greenwich, R.I., have adopted the EPA label system and New York City is considering doing the same. There’s more information on this at the Noiseoff website.

  2. On October 15, 2009 at 1:32 am Debra Hollis wrote:

    When you are on your cell phone or your radio too loud and your windows are rolled up, I have a much better chance of being noticed if my pipes are loud. Maybe then you will not pull over in front of me or take my right of way. 72% of all motorcycle accidents are the cars fault! Take time to LOOK for MOTORCYCLES

  3. On October 15, 2009 at 12:19 pm KrisC wrote:

    Even new cars have obnoxious loud exhaust systems installed on them. There are so many of them along with loud boom boom systems that come up behind drivers at stop lights, that it’s evident that law enforcement has taken them off their stop list for citations.

  4. On October 18, 2009 at 11:06 am SR wrote:

    Debra, give me a break…
    I also ride a 1100 semi-custom Yamaha that has loud pipes, but to be honest, loud pipes are simply a desire and vanity item. The safety issue is always brought up by bikers (even though accurate that drivers notice you better) because it’s the only defense we have. In reality, almost all bikes with straight/loud pipes have LESS horsepower than the OEM factory pipes. (mine too I admit). Loud pipes are just cool to have compared to OEM that bikers think are lame sounding.

  5. On December 15, 2010 at 1:15 pm Jerry Dockery wrote:

    The reality is that both the Harley representative and whoever you talked to in law enforcement are wrong. There are both Federal and State laws which prohibit loud pipes. I am surprised your reporter did such a poor job of pressing for proof of their positions.

  6. On December 15, 2010 at 5:40 pm Jim Ware wrote:

    It looks like we need to do a little more reporting. Thanks.

  7. On January 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm Brian Freskos wrote:

    We’ve been looking for more information on whether federal or state entities regulate noise levels and here’s what we found:
    A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, James Pinkney, said that although the EPA is charged with regulating vehicle emissions, it is not responsible for determining whether vehicles are noise compliant. That motorcycles must have an EPA noise compliance label is inaccurate, he said.
    In North Carolina, Marge Howell, communications officer for the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, said statutes do require that mufflers be in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise, although what defines excessive and unusual is not specified. It is unlawful, however, to use a muffler cutout, she said.
    If you know of any regulations governing motorcycle exhaust noise, please share. In the meantime, we’ll keep looking.

  8. On March 31, 2011 at 12:22 am NCCALM wrote:

    North Carolina requires all vehicles to have exhaust systems of the type installed at the time of manufacture. For motorcycles manufactured since 12/31/1982, that means EPA compliant exhaust systems, not louder non-EPA compliant aftermarket exhaust systems. If you would like to see that law enforced for a change join North Carolina Citizens Against Loud Motor-vehicles. We have a facebook page, NCCALM. Please check in and join our effort to get those motorcycles quieted down.

    A message to NC law enforcers: Please enforce the law. Don’t apologize for those who violate it.

    § 20-128. Exhaust system and emissions control devices.

    (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway unless such motor vehicle is equipped with a muffler, or other exhaust system of the type installed at the time of manufacture , in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise, annoying smoke and smoke screens.

  9. On April 6, 2011 at 10:03 pm M Pinsky wrote:

    There are local noise ordinances against “boom” cars, at least int he city I live in. Whether or not anyone actually enforces them is another story. I have an appointment scheduled next week with the Chief of Police in my city located in NW Phoenix, AZ to specifically address that issue. I am woke up nightly by the ground shaking under my house. In 1978, when I was a teenagers I received a noise pollution ticket for the sidepipes on my car … but that was back when the EPA still held responsibility for noise pollution (1972 – 1982). Now that responsibility is at state and local levels, nothing gets enforced. It’s frustrating.

  10. On November 28, 2013 at 7:56 am Gerry Alden wrote:

    Your article is in error about what is controlled for noise emissions on a motorcycle. The EPA does not certify motorcycle mufflers for use, but low-noise-exhaust-emission regulations for the total vehicle under a prescribed testing procedure. It is the purposeful design of a manufacturer surrounding the noise emissions of a highway motorcycle prototype and it’s production clones that ultimately causes the sound energy to exist in any traffic soundscape, not the EPA. In fact nearly all highway motorcycles manufactured before the new 1982 standards were implemented were stated by their manufactures to already operate well under the national limits. The federal regulation 40CFR205.152-6 describes how any non-standard muffler may be found legally used while a low-noise-exhaust-emission regulated vehicle is “in use”. It is not correct to state it is illegal to swap out original parts or exhaust systems, by and Federal or specific state law. In no possible way are exhaust systems designed to fit a highway motorcycle, regulated by the EPA without considering the total noise engineering characteristics of the whole standard vehicle. In all cases it is the noise level of motorcycle that is regulated, not the exhaust. Please correct your report.

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