Spring is in full swing which means it’s prime time for motorcycles and sports cars on the roads. Unfortunately, this also means it’s peak time to get an unnecessary noise ticket in BC.
While the law gives police the power to hand out tickets to excessively loud drivers. But exactly how loud is too loud? And how do officers measure the noise coming from your vehicle?
What factors determine an unnecessary noise ticket in BC?
Division 7A.01 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations prohibits unnecessary or excessive noise from vehicles. It states:
No person shall start, drive, turn or stop any motor vehicle, or accelerate the vehicle engine while the vehicle is stationary, in a manner which causes any loud and unnecessary noise in or from the engine, exhaust system or the braking system, or from the contact of the tires with the roadway.
So any noise, whether it comes from the engine, exhaust, brakes or tires, that is “loud and unnecessary” will result in a ticket. An unnecessary noise ticket in BC usually results in a $109 fine and three penalty points on your driving record.
The punishment, in particular the points, is harsh. Penalty points are usually there to punish and deter unsafe driving. Now while noise can be annoying, or even alarming, it is not in itself dangerous. Many drivers are angry at BC’s unnecessary noise law, and for good reason.
How do police measure noise from vehicles?
Police do not typically walk around carrying decibel meters. So how do they decide if a vehicle is making too much noise?
Section 27 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations sets prescribed limits on the maximum allowable decibel levels from different classes of vehicle. The limit is 83 db for standard light duty vehicles, 88 for gas-powered heavy duty vehicles, 91 for motorcycles and 93 for diesel-driven heavy duty vehicles.
But that still doesn’t answer how police decide if a vehicle is exceeding those limits. It may come as a surprise but an unnecessary noise ticket in BC usually comes down to the officer’s opinion.
Open to abuse
The legislation is vague. It prohibits “loud and unnecessary” noise without outlining how to meet this standard. You may well ask, how is that fair? It’s not like a speeding ticket where the officer needs a reading from a radar speed detecting device to support their visual estimation. So, inevitably, it comes down to a subjective opinion.
The vague wording of the regulation leaves it open to potential abuse. A ticket issued on the basis of an opinion is impossible to argue against.
So how do you defend against an unnecessary noise ticket in BC? There is no simple answer. In this case, an 18-year-old ‘N’ driver appealed against a ticket he received for excessive noise while driving a car with a standard transmission.
The judge noted: “The term ‘loud and unnecessary noise’ is not defined in the Regulations.”
The judge added: “To the extent that there was a noise caused by the changing of gears, there may well be a legitimate defence as to whether such noise was loud and unnecessary within the meaning of s. 7A.01.”
Anger from car and motorcycle enthusiasts
There is palpable anger out there among sports car owners and motorcyclists over this regulation. There are discussion boards filled with angry drivers who say police unfairly target them. They are also concerned that police could issue them an unnecessary noise ticket even if their vehicle meets the requirements of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations.
On the other side of the argument, there are people who want quieter streets. They want to ban vehicle owners from intentionally making their cars or motorcycles louder with after-market accessories and components, such as heavily modified exhausts. The problem is, under the current system, banning modifications would not solve the noise problem. Drivers of vehicles with all stock parts are ticketed in the same way as those with modified parts.
So what is the solution? Why not start with a warning? It’s clear that it’s a minority of people who intentionally go out to make as much noise as they can. Meanwhile, owners of vehicles with entirely standard parts can still get excessive noise tickets. Targeting drivers who repeatedly made excessive noise would certainly be more in the spirit of the legislation.