Vehicle Noise

Electronic roadside sign saying, "Loud Mufferls Prohibited"

Among the most prevalent sources of excessive and unhealthy noise in Providence are motor vehicles.1 This includes private cars, trucks, and motorcycles (both licensed and illegal off-road ATVs), as well as emergency vehicles (police cars, fire trucks, ambulances), and commercial trucks used for cargo, garbage collection, and other industrial purposes.

It’s important, however, to differentiate between vehicular noise that is ancillary to a larger purpose — such as the sirens of ambulances rushing people to the hospital, or fire trucks racing to put out a fire — and that which is deliberately generated in order to disrupt the peaceful well-being of other city residents.2

The Noise Project supports efforts to reduce both types of noise, but receives vastly more complaints from residents about vehicles intentionally altered with specialized equipment such as modified mufflers and over-amplified audio systems3 or otherwise mis-used specifically to produce unnecessary and illegal levels of noise.

The difficulty in tracking and identifying mobile noise sources is in part what makes them so pernicious — and thus appealing to those seeking to disrupt public space (and surrounding private property). But as with other forms of air pollution, the mere fact of its transience does not relieve state and local authorities of their responsibility to actively enforce regulations that limit vehicle noise.

Among the policies Providence’s city government should implement to address vehicular noise are:

  • Deploy noise cameras to end vehicle-noise impunity and restore deterrence. The city of Newport is already testing noise cameras to address the prevalence of loud motorcycles there. Mayor Smiley must include funding for a noise-camera pilot program in its 2024 budget proposal.

  • Prohibit the commercial sale and installation of modified mufflers — They are illegal to use under both Providence municipal code and Rhode Island law, yet are openly promoted, sold, and installed by local businesses.4 This latter activity should be prosecuted as a form of inducement to violate city and state motor-vehicle regulations. Other states have contemplated heavily taxing the sale and installation of modified mufflers.

  • Treat the installation of over-sized / -powered audio equipment in a motor vehicle as evidence of intent to violate noise limits. Just as the possession of drug paraphernalia or burglary tools is considered evidence of criminal intent, installing venue-grade sound equipment is unnecessary unless someone seeks to deliberately violate city noise limits.

For more information on vehicle noise, visit our Resources page.

If youd like to get involved in helping to address vehicle noise in Providence,
fill in the form on our Volunteer page and check that box on the interest list
.

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1 As of mid-March 2024, data submitted to the Noise Project’s Community Noise Survey indicate that 93% of residents are exposed to noise from vehicles, making it the single most-prevalent source of noise in the city.

2 Another example is highway noise, which is a secondary effect of our car-centered transportation system. That doesn’t make it innocuous or tolerable, but does explain its prevalence. Some noise denialists cynically cite highway traffic and emergency vehicles as the only vehicle noise that adversely affects city residents — the former because its collective nature makes it difficult to attribute to individuals, and the latter because it’s an ‘official’ source of loud sound that implicates the government in contributing to noise, and therefore justifies (to them) the deliberate generation of anti-social noise.

3 In addition, and to a far lesser degree, we also get reports of vehicle noise from residents about the use of vehicle horns to summon people, gratuitous car alarms and engine revving, and highway noise.

4 Though it may be relatively easy to cross state lines to purchase an illegal muffler, the city and state are sending a mixed message by allowing them to be openly promoted, sold, and installed — but not legally used.