Noise Cameras

Providence has long been deficient in addressing a wide range of excessive noise sources, but vehicle noise is the one most frequently cited by residents: “non-compliant” mufflers — some of which have been inadvertently damaged, but most of which are deliberately disabled or modified to make them louder — and over-amplified audio systems, which comprise over-sized speakers and related equipment installed at considerable expense to disrupt the community while traversing the city.1

Of the absurdly low 19 citations the Providence Police issued for excessive noise in all of 2022 — in response to 5,500 complaints — two were for non-compliant mufflers and ten were for excessively loud music from vehicles. In other words, nearly two-thirds of all 2022 noise citations were vehicle related. In the absence of more consistent enforcement yielding tangible improvements, residents are desperate for ways to reduce rampant vehicle noise throughout the city every day and night.

In early 2024, Mayor Brett Smiley announced his interest in following Newport, RI — as well as U.S. and international cities such as Chicago, Knoxville (TN), Miami, New York City, and Barcelona, London, Paris, and others — as the state’s second municipality to explore the use of noise cameras as a way of reducing mobile noise.

Noise cameras are very similar to better-known speed cameras and red-light cameras, but instead of sensors to measure speed or linked to traffic lights (to indicate a vehicle has gone through an intersection after the light changed), they have a microphone that measures noise and locates the source. When it detects noise above the legal limit, it photographs the vehicle responsible. (The actual sound itself is not recorded, just the decibel level.)

As a means of reducing excessive and unnecessary vehicle sound levels and improving the health and well-being of Providence residents and visitors, noise cameras have several beneficial features:

  • As noted above, noise cameras are essentially the same as the speed and red-light camerasand far less intrusive than Flock license-plate readers2 — already in use. With Providence and other cities now monitoring levels of unhealthy air pollution such as carbon monoxide / dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and particulates (PM 2.5) in multiple locations, measuring excessive noise pollution simply represents an additional element of urban air-quality analysis.

  • Noise cameras enable cities to detect and deter harmful noise levels without diverting law-enforcement officers from other duties — or requiring additional personnel — and thus offer a comparatively low-cost means of implementing long-standing public policy goals.

  • Noise cameras alleviate concerns about inconsistent code enforcement and potentially dangerous vehicle stops — They do not focus on or photograph a vehicle unless sensors detect that it is generating sound levels above the legal limit. This eliminates the influence of human bias (based on driver / passenger / vehicle appearance, the type of sound being made, or an invalid pretext) in the decision to record a vehicle’s license-plate information, citing excessively loud vehicles for other code violations, and even the need to stop them at all.

No legitimate public purpose is served by allowing a relatively small group of people, many of whom are neither Providence nor Rhode Island residents, to deliberately disrupt the daily well-being of those who actually live here. Noise cameras represent a reasonable effort to reduce the scourge of mobile noise and make our city a healthier and more peaceful place to live, work, and visit.

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1 Rhode Island state law also prohibits both non-compliant mufflers and over-amplified audio systems in vehicles.

2 Flock cameras reportedly capture far more data than standard license-plate readers, which photograph only the plate itself. They can profile vehicles by color, type, roof rack, and even bumper stickers; track how often a given vehicle passes any of the cameras; and even predict their routes. And the Flock data is apparently shared with the police department and National Crime Information Center. They were introduced during the final term of “progressive” mayor Jorge Elorza.