A boom car is a vehicle equipped with an audio system that produces excessive sound pressure levels (SPL). The pounding bass noise can be heard and felt over a wide distance, rattle windows and travel through walls. Millions of people are adversely affected by this noise.
Aftermarket sound systems were originally marketed as a means to enjoy improved sound quality and convenience in a vehicle by replacing the factory stock sound system. Today, the car audio industry promotes thuggery and passive aggressive behavior in the use of their products.
The car audio industry promotes "booming" to typically lower-middle class males in their teens and twenties with some disposable income. They assume their car will attract women and improve their social standing among their peers.
Boom cars have given rise to an urban subculture. Sound pressure level (SPL) competitions (also known as dB drag racing) are held nationwide. Non-professional competitors spend thousands of the dollars on audio equipment for their vehicles. The expensive speakers frequently blow out in competition and need to be replaced. Manufacturers and installers promote the brand and their business respectively by sponsoring professional competitors.
MTX Audio Jackhammer Superwoofer
Advertised as the "biggest, baddest, boldest superwoofer". It is a 369 pound speaker with a 22" diameter and requires an extruded heatsink. The speaker can handle 12,000 watts.
Safety and Health Concerns
Noise pollution is unwanted human-created sound that has the effect of being annoying, distracting, painful, or physically harmful. People exposed to noise pollution suffer from hearing loss, sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, anxiety, hostility, depression and hypertension. World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, United Nations and numerous scientific and medical publications recognize noise pollution and its deleterious effects.
The intense sound caused by boom cars easily triggers an involuntary stress response commonly known as "fight or flight." This results in the secretion of adrenaline, with ensuing spikes in cardio-respiratory rates, muscle tension, and elevated blood pressure. Vibroacoustic Disease is a cumulative and chronic disease caused by exposure to infrasound. Infrasound is low frequency sound energy that affects the nervous system and prolonged exposure can lead to progressive medical conditions.
The medical journal Thorax reported the cases of four young men who suffered a lung collapse triggered by loud bass music. Three of the men were at a concert or club, while the fourth was in a boom car outfitted with a 1,000-watt bass system.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 25 percent of vehicle accidents are caused by driver distraction. Drivers experience reduced reaction times when listening to loud music and adjusting the controls on their car stereo equipment.
The Money Trail
The largest manufacturers of boom car equipment include Sony, Pioneer and JBL. Sony uses the brand name X-Plod with the slogan "Disturb The Peace". Pioneer Electronics slogan is "Disturb, Defy, Disrupt, Ignite". JBL uses the slogan, "Either we love bass, or hate your neighbors." One of the largest retailers of car audio equipment is Crutchfield.
Car audio companies advertise through magazines, internet viral and guerilla marketing campaigns. Because their marketing often falls under the radar of mainstream culture, they have been able to avoid public scrutiny. Below are their slogans and marketing messages.
- JBL: "Either we love BASS or hate your neighbors."
- JL Audio: "Be Very Afraid."
- Kicker: "You deserve a beating...Kicker's loudest, meanest subwoofer ever!"
- Concept: "When TOO loud...is just right!"
- Lightning Audio: "Sonic submission."
- Boss Audio System: "Turn it down? I don't think so."
- Cerwin-Vega Mobile Audio: "Shake the living, wake the dead."
- Crossfire: "We're louder...Deal with it!"
- Earthquake Sound: "The Meanest, Loudest, Most Powerful, Mother F--- Amplifiers Money Can Buy!"
- Viper Audio: "Cold Blooded. Violent Fury and Multi-Channel Mayhem."
- Orion High Performance Car Audio: "Be Loud. Be Obnoxious."
The Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA), represents automotive aftermarket retailers. They issued a position statement warning its member companies "not to use symbols, messages or suggest behavior that would adversely affect the industry. Irresponsible promotion could negatively impact the perception of our industry by the public at large and could be used against us by activists or government to regulate our products and activities".
The culture of booming is also promoted through cable television, notably MTV's Pimp My Ride (Viacom). The premise of the show takes a jalopy that is customized and outfitted with high end audio equipment. A rapper hosts the show and participants end up with a car designed to blast bass noise as a primary function of the retrofit. Car audio companies and the automotive aftermarket industry showcase their products through product placement.
These companies are members of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). Along with the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA) representing dealers and installers, they have lobbied against proposed noise-pollution ordinances in communities all over America. SEMA created the 'Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus' enlisting members of congress to support their agenda.
In recent years, Chicago and New York City have imposed stronger noise codes. Across the country, there is a patchwork of noise ordinances that is not effectively enforced. In cases where communities have tried to strengthen the noise code, the car audio industry has lobbied to defeat it.
Some municipalities require that a police officer measure the amount of noise with a decibel meter before issuing a summons. Citations are often challenged in court because the meters must be certified and calibrated for its readings to be used as evidence. In addition, police officers must be properly trained to use the expensive equipment.
An effective enforcement measure is called 'plainly audible standard' that allows an officer to determine noise levels. In Florida, noise offenders can be cited if the audio system is plainly audible at 25 feet.
In Lorain, Ohio, repeat offenders risk having their car impounded and their stereo equipment destroyed. In Gulfport, Mississippi, the police launched a public service campaign to raise awareness of the city's noise ordinance, which sets a penalty of up to $1,000 for disturbing the peace. Residents can report noise offenders through a website that the police can later follow up on.
Sarasota is the first city in Florida to impound cars for blasting loud music. The city commission amended an ordinance to allow police to impound vehicles if the music is plainly audible at 25 feet. The first time the vehicle is impounded, the tow charge is $125. A second offense will result in a $125 tow charge, plus a $250 fine.
Sarasota Police Chief Peter Abbott said, "If somebody goes down the street and has this car that's rattling the walls and waking up every child and every infant, every sick and elderly person and shift worker and drives through the neighborhood, and when they settle down they drive back an hour later, wake up the neighborhood again, that car will spend time in the impound lot."
Pioneer Electronics thug-marketing video titled Disturb. A young man talks about spending half of his inheritance money to purchase car audio equipment costing $30,000. Another brags about how his boom car sets off car alarms and once caused a little boy to cry in the middle of the street.
Do not approach or attempt to reason with motorists in boom cars. When possible, take down their license plate number and call the police.
Learn the existing noise codes in your community and how it applies to boom cars. Lobby officials for a stronger noise codes against booming.
Lobby police to increase patrols and fines for offenders.
Talk to your neighbors and organize; work with community groups and raise the issue of boom car noise.
If you see a car audio shop opening up in your community, organize with your neighbors and protest.
NoiseOFF Boom Car Flyer
Distribute flyers in your community and raise public awareness. Post them on bulletin boards (work, supermarket, library, school campus, coffee house, house of worship) and pass them out at community meetings and public spaces. Send copies to your local elected legislators and the media.