There have been numerous criminal cases where confrontations over noise problems have resulted in property damage, violence and even murder (either to the complainant or the other party). There are civil ways of solving a noise problem where you do not have to risk your personal safety or freedom.
Do not approach or attempt to reason with groups of people causing noise problems, especially where alcohol and drug use are involved.
In cases where vehicles are involved, such as boom cars or motorcycles, take down their license plate number and call the police. Even if the police do not respond, you have a complaint on record that you can follow up later.
When making a noise complaint, do not make threats or become belligerent to the other party. It will most likely escalate the problem, and more so, the other party can claim to law enforcement that you are the aggressor.
Obtain a copy of the noise ordinance in your community and see what applicable code applies to your specific problem.
Different agencies are responsible for enforcing specific codes related to noise. For instance, noise from a bar may be investigated by the police, but the state liquor authority may have the power to suspend or revoke their liquor permit based on complaints from the community.
Check to see what zoning restrictions apply in you area and whether the offending neighbor has obtained any variance permits allowing special use on their property.
Because the police often cite noise complaints as subjective, you may need to prove that you are experiencing a noise problem.
Keep a log of all specific incidents where you are subjected to noise, including incidents where you have previously contacted the police. The log should record the date, time, duration, and noise source.
You can also record the noise levels to show third parties (such as building management) that there is a noise problem. However, this type of evidence will not stand up in a court case.
A sound level meter uses two weighting filters: the dB(a) or dB(c) standard. The (a)-weighting standard allows measurement of general sound levels; the (c)-weighting standard allows measurement of low-frequency sound levels. You can purchase a sound level meter for about $50 at Radio Shack.
A video camera can also document evidence of a noise problem. The inherent problem with all consumer-level devices is that it cannot record low frequency noise (such as bass sound from a car). You can use a decibel meter while recording to show the noise level readings on video.
In cases where a proposed commercial or industrial facility may impact nearby residents, an acoustics consultant can provide noise mitigation strategies, environmental impact statements, surveys, and advocacy.
Additional services include measuring the level and frequency response that can be used to isolate and mitigate a noise source (for example: HVAC system requiring an adjustment or enclosure) or incorporating a soundproofing solution to a residential or business environment.
Attend Community Meetings
Attend community meetings and speak out on the issue of noise. Identify board members and citizens that you can ally with on noise and quality of life issues. If you live in an area that is governed by a homeowners association, a condominium or cooperative board, run for a position on the committee. Speak to civic groups about the noise pollution problem in the community.
In urban cities, police departments have community precinct council meetings in which police officials answer questions from community members about enforcement of crime and quality of life issues.
The perceptions of noise pollution and its effects on health and society are not always understood by the general public. An important step to reducing noise pollution in your community is to raise public awareness.
You can download and print our collection of handouts for your family, friends, co-workers and associates. Post them on bulletin boards at work, your house of worship, schools, supermarkets, political clubs, and community centers. Pass them out at community meetings. Mail copies to the local media. Promote noise pollution awareness on your website or social media page.
Write Effective Letters
Your letter reveals a great deal about you: your education and literacy level; your ability to communicate and persuade; your attitude and determination in resolving a noise problem. Your letters should be civil and free from ambiguity. It will not help you to send poorly written letters for the sake of making a complaint.
- Do not use adjectives or name calling to slander or demean others.
- Do not threaten, curse, flame, or use any kind of abusive language.
- Avoid using all CAPS or all lowercase in your correspondence.
- Do not write something that you would not want others to read. Assume the recipient will forward and copy the letter to another party.
- Present as much pertinent and detailed information as possible to prove your case.
- Do not make a claim that you cannot otherwise back up with evidence.
- Clearly state your request for action and specify a timeframe before indicating any further action you will take.
- Do not pontificate.
- Do not send an e-mail if you are in a foul mood or in a rush.
- Spell check.
- Avoid distracting fonts.
Lobby Elected Officials
You can lobby for a noise ordinance or a zoning ordinance.
A noise or zoning ordinance can address specific noise problems in the community. A noise ordinance is a public policy that defines and prohibits excessive noises, mandated by agency enforcement. A zoning ordinance is a public policy that defines and prohibits land-use that harms existing residents or businesses in a given area.
Here are two examples. The noise from a boom car on the street can be prohibited with a noise ordinance allowing police to pull over and fine the offending motorist. The use of an ATV on private property can be prohibited with a zoning ordinance allowing police or another assigned municipal agency to fine the offending property owner.
Typically, the police are mandated to enforce existing codes, but other agencies may be mandated to enforce specific noise or property violations.
Identify members of the local community board, city or town council, the mayor, your local congressman, state senators and other officials. Keep their contact information on record that you can write letters and meet with them. If there is any proposed noise pollution legislation, request that they hold a public hearing so that concerned citizens can testify.
Join and participate in political clubs that they belong to. If legislators see that you are an asset to their election campaign, you will have more credibility with them.
Important points on lobbying or testifying before public hearings:
- Dress appropriately in a professional manner.
- Have a written prepared statement and have copies ready to give to legislators and the media.
- You will have more credibility representing a local citizens group than as an individual.
- When asked a hostile question, respond to the meaning of the question, not the literal verbiage of the question.
- Do not respond to taunts by those who represent the other side of the issue.
Contact your Congressperson and request legislation to support funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reinstate the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC).
Run for Political Office
An effective way to enact legislation is to run for political office. Some political seats are decided by democratic election and others are appointed. There are different types of committees based on where you live: cooperative board, condominium board, or homeowners association. Other committees are based on region: community board, or board of supervisors. Obtain a copy of the by-laws to better understand the relationship between different offices and committees.
You can also join and actively participate in a political club that will grant you access and influence within your party. Attend community meetings that you will be able to ally with others for political influence. By establishing core messages that address the ideals of your party affiliation while respecting the interests of the other party, you will be able to position yourself as a moderate focused on protecting the commons.
Lobby Law Enforcement
In many cities, police departments have community councils, a forum where residents can voice concerns about crime and quality of life issues directly to police officials. The monthly meetings are intended to improve police-community relations in neighborhoods. Citizens with good attendance can become voting members to administer council meetings.
Attending the meetings is an ideal way to meet with officers who can help you with a specific noise problem. You can also request a sit down meeting with the commander of the department and deliver a brief presentation on the issue of noise pollution. NoiseOFF has documents in the Library section for law enforcement professionals.
How do police departments prioritize and handle different types of complaints? It is assumed that police enforcement policy is based on the number and severity of complaints. Police action or inaction is sometimes influenced by political or external pressure. Risk factors can include conflicts of interest, alienating public officials, local businesses (especially where police officers are employed to provide off-duty security) or causing public relations problems for the department. Police officers act in the best interest of their careers and their department.
For residents who are dealing with the noise from cruising and boom cars, it is sometimes difficult for police to catch specific perpetrators in the act. It requires the officer to locate the motorist, directly observe the noise violation and take enforcement action using a cumbersome decibel meter as may be required.
Some police departments use soft letters. The intended purpose is to warn the offending motorist that the police department has been notified by residents that they had been observed violating the noise or motor vehicle code. The offenders are now put on official notice to stop using their vehicle to make noise.
Following additional complaints by other residents, a police officer may arrive at the offenders residence for a "knock and talk" about the problem. If the offending motorist is pulled over at a later time by police for the same violation, the officer can take additional enforcement action since it is on record that the motorist is a scofflaw. If the motorist challenges the summons in court, the information on file could be submitted to the judge as evidence that the offender has an established history of committing the same offense.
The police department can draft its own procedure policy and soft letter template with cited legal statutes in the areas of loud car stereos, exhaust systems on automobiles and motorcycles, and errant vehicle alarm systems.
Following a public awareness initiative to promote the use of soft letters, residents can call the police to report noise offenders. Each complaint must include the vehicle tag number, the vehicle make and model, time and location of incident, and the offense observed. The complainant is also required to submit their contact information confidentially, to avoid any possibility that the complaint is being used to intentionally harass another person.
Example Soft Letter
Anytown Police Department
City, State ZIP
June 1, 2010
City, State ZIP
This notice is being sent to you in reference to a [VEHICLE DESCRIPTION] which according to Department of Motor Vehicles records is registered and/or titled to you.
On [DATE] at [TIME], this vehicle was observed by members of the community in the vicinity of [LOCATION] (and that operating said vehicle was [NAME OF PERSON], if stopped). The vehicle was observed operating a sound reproduction device louder than is necessary for convenient listening.
The City of Anytown prohibits excessive noise from motor vehicles. Here is the noise code in reference:
Chapter 75-12 of the CODE OF THE CITY OF ANYTOWN states:
A. No person shall operate any radio or device producing sound that is:
(3) Audible at a distance of fifty (50) feet from such device if operated from within a motor vehicle on a public street.
C. Any motor vehicle used in connection with the commission of a violation of this section shall be summoned in accordance with § 111-75 of the Municipal Code.
D. A third violation shall result in vehicle seizure in accordance with § 111-76 of the Municipal Code.
Violators face penalties that begin with a summons of $250. Additional subsequent violations will result in a criminal court summons and the confiscation of your vehicle.
Your cooperation will set an example as to what can be accomplished when the community and police work together for the purpose of making our city a more civil place to live. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Chief of Police
Create a media list of local news outlets (newspapers, magazine, television and radio stations) including the names of the editors and producers. You can create a database that makes it easy to mail merge and create mailing labels.
Pitch stories about noise pollution. Call in on a talk radio program and discuss noise pollution. Submit an editorial piece to the newspaper for publication. Become an expert on noise pollution and make it well known so that when a reporter needs a comment on a related story, they will contact you.
Is there an elected official who is working to strengthen the noise pollution ordinance in your community? Is there a police officer that is doing a good job reducing the noise in your neighborhood? Send a letter of praise to the local newspaper that they may publish it.
Important points about pitching news stories about noise pollution:
- Develop relationships by keeping them in the loop on community and noise pollution issues.
- Have a list of talking points that clearly communicates your message.
- Do not say something that you do not intend to be on record.
- If your story is covered in one outlet, use it as leverage to get a media placement in another outlet.
Participate in Local Events
You can present the issue of noise pollution as a serious quality of life issue by setting up a table with flyers that you can distribute. You can also ally with other community groups for a space to distribute flyers at their tables as well.
Many communities hold block parties, festivals, and other events to help bring neighbors together. Two events ideal for noise pollution awareness is Earth Day (April 22) and National Night Out (first Tuesday of August).
Call or visit your local police station to find out where the National Night Out event will be held in your community. It aims to increase awareness about police programs in communities, and civic groups are welcome to participate.
Organize an Event
Events can include a local meetup, a public demonstration or rally. The purpose is to attract new members to a group, raise public awareness by way of direct interaction or through the media. When protesting against a business that is determined to be causing a noise problem in the community, do not allow your group to be provoked from others representing the other side. Follow police instructions on where you can assemble.
- Get the support of your neighbors, businesses, organizations and faith-based groups.
- Advertise the event with fliers, postings in local message boards, and announcements at group meetings.
- Prepare signs and banners.
- Send a media alert along with a press release or fact sheet on the issue.
- Have a list of talking points that communicates your message.
- Take photographs and videos of the event.
There are three forms of bias that is at the root of any argument on noise pollution.
The first bias is social. Noise pollution issues are often characterized as a lifestyle issue than a public health issue. Many people assume noise is something that only certain types of people would be offended by or complain about. Some only see the issue as something that represents a perceived loss of their own freedom and lifestyle. Others see noise as a libertarian issue only.
The second bias is economic. Some people believe that noise equals prosperity. Business owners often refuse to acknowledge noise issues they created because they would be liable for the time and cost to mitigate or abate the problem. They will often respond with incongruity that they may bear at least some responsibility for their noise impact on the community. Neighbors who create noise problems often do not want to spend the time and money to mitigate the problem and prefer to let others suffer from their noise.
The third bias is bureaucratic. When public officials say, "we are doing everything we can" they are in fact doing little, if anything, to reduce noise problems they are mandated to handle. Some agencies will manage the problem, only doing enough to show they are doing something, as opposed to effectively reducing the problem where the end result is less noise for citizens. This kind of bias is the most insidious because it reveals that the real problem is the system itself.
Critics will always seek to obfuscate, invalidate, deny, and dismiss the issue and the noise sufferer to the extent that they will not be liable or bear any responsibility. By answering the bias as opposed to the argument by the critic, you will be able to better present the issue to interested parties.
In any conflict between two parties, there is usually a third party that is behind the turmoil. Most disputes between neighbors are often caused by boom cars, car alarms, and loud exhaust systems on motorcycles and hot-rods. The prevalence of these technologies has turned neighbor against neighbor, whereby the businesses that manufacture and sell these products quietly profit and assume no liability.
Form a Community Group
Most people dealing with noise problems feel alone in their efforts to find a solution. Sometimes individual complaints are ignored by legislators and law enforcement. You will gain more support and credibility by presenting quality of life issues as a united group. By working with others in the community, you can better advocate your situation and better quality of life for all.
Sometimes noise problems are symptomatic of underlying issues that the community is dealing with, such as crime or overdevelopment. You may find that your closest neighbors are dealing with community problems you may not even be aware of.
Creating an effective group requires cooperation, organization, and persistence. Your responsibility is to motivate others, secure materials, establish a meeting space and work within group dynamics to accomplish specific objectives. This is not a comprehensive how-to on grassroots organization, but an overview of the process.
- Create a name for your group that clearly describes the purpose of the group, i.e., Galveston County Community Alliance.
- Create a mission statement that defines the core purpose of the organization. Effective mission statements are inspiring, easily communicated and understood.
- Create a constitution, a set of by-laws that specifies the election process of board members, profit or non-profit status, frequency of annual meetings, and the decision making process.
- Group Dynamics
- Identify other civic-based organizations in your community. Create strategic alliances that you can attract interested members to your organization.
- Send notices of upcoming meetings to local media and allied organizations in your community.
- Create an advisory board and elect members for positions.
- Speak to family, friends and neighbors and get their support.
- Host monthly meetings in a public space where people can meet and openly speak out on community noise issues.
- Use Robert's Rules of Order for establishing the protocol for your meetings.
- Apply for 501c(3) non-profit tax-exempt status to accept donations.
- You can charge yearly membership dues or hold meeting raffles. A 50/50 raffle allows members to purchase one or more tickets; each ticket purchased is the equivalent of one entry in the drawing. A random drawing is held in which a single winning ticket number is chosen. The winning ticket holder is entitled to half of the proceeds, the organization is entitled to the remaining half.
- Clearly communicate to members how monies for the organization are allocated.
- Request donations from foundations, governments, and corporate sponsorships.
- Write press releases and articles for publication in local media.
- Create a website that includes a unique domain name.
- Secure a mailing address, such as a post office box.
- Create letterheads, envelopes and business cards.
- Meetings and Objectives
- Identify the skills and interests of members. Learn about their reasons for joining the group.
- Listen to and reward members for their work and dedication.
- Keep minutes of the meeting and do not allow any one specific agenda item to dominate the meeting.
- Maintain a planning calendar for meetings and events.
Staten Island residents were surprised to learn that International Speedway Corporation, the owners of NASCAR purchased land with the intention of building a racetrack. Concerned residents saw this as a threat to their quality of life, in addition to ecological, cultural, and financial concerns.
At a public hearing on the proposed NASCAR track, the developer allegedly shipped in supporters, including construction union members who shouted down and physically threatened residents and public officials who had come out to voice concerns about the project. A melee ensued in which the police were called in to shut down the meeting.
Organized citizens groups created petitions, surveys, and a website to serve as a clearinghouse of information. By keeping fellow residents on the island informed and involved, more residents have come forward against the proposed development.
International Speedway Corporation have since put the brakes on their development plan.
Surveys and Petitions
The purpose of surveys is to raise public awareness about a problem in the community; the purpose of petitions is to show legislators and law enforcement that a majority of residents demand action for a given problem. The two are interchangeable: a survey can raise awareness to officials about a problem in the community and petitions can be shown to media that residents are demanding action.
In this example, nearby residents are being adversely affected by the noise from a racetrack. A neighborhood coalition is formed to raise awareness of the problem. A survey and petition is created for its members to go out and collect information and signatures from the community.
The purpose of this survey is to better understand your views of the racetrack in the community.
- Are you or a member of your family employed or otherwise derive an income from the racetrack?
- Does the noise from the racetrack create an undesirable disturbance in your home?
- Is the noise loud enough to cause you or member(s) of your family pain or loss of sleep?
- Would you prefer that the owners of the racetrack abate or mitigate the noise?
- Approximate distance in miles from the racetrack to your home?
         [10 or More]
The neighborhood coalition can then publish the results of the survey as a press release. A press release can be sent directly to local media and through a wire service that distributes press releases to specific groups of media. Here is what a sample press release looks like.
Example Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Anytown Neighborhood Coalition
Anytown Neighborhood Coalition Announces Community Noise Pollution Survey Results
Local citizens group gets an earful from concerned residents about Anytown Racetrack.
Anytown, NY -- June 1, 2010 -- A local grassroots organization founded in Anytown conducted a survey to learn more about longstanding quality of life issues in the community. The group, Anytown Neighborhood Coalition comprised of sixty (60) members asked over eight hundred thirty (830) residents their opinions of the Anytown Race Track.
The findings of the survey reveals that the Anytown Race Track is having an adverse effect on nearby residents. Since the racetrack opened three years ago, neighbors have complained to public officials and spoken out at town hall meetings about the noise.
The findings of the Anytown Neighborhood Coalition survey show that:
- Twenty-eight percent (28%) of residents said that the Anytown Racetrack causes an undesirable disturbance in their home;
- Fourteen percent (14%) of residents said that the noise is loud enough to cause them or a member of their family pain or loss of sleep;
- Forty-two percent (42%) or residents said that they prefer the owners of the racetrack to abate or mitigate the noise.
With a population of 41,000 residents (US Census Bureau: 2000), each percentage point roughly represents about 410 residents who responded to the survey.
The family of newborn twins who participated in the survey commented that the noise is loud enough that they have to vacate their own house on track meets because of the noise. "You can even feel a vibration on our house from the noise, I am worried that our children could be adversely affected," they said. Another family with four children commented that they plan to sell their house and move away because of the noise.
According to the environmental impact study originally submitted by the Anytown Racetrack to the City Council in 2004, less than 0.5% might be impacted by noise. The racetrack, owned by Racetrack Corporation is contesting several lawsuits filed by nearby residents for lack of adequate noise abatement as mandated by the city council.
"The Racetrack Corporation has refused to discuss with us the noise impact they have on the community," said John Doe, President of the Anytown Neighborhood Coalition. "We are seeking an effective mitigation strategy that will allow residents some peace and quiet in their homes, and the city council to conduct their own environmental study on noise," he said.
A copy of the survey results and a petition has been submitted to the Mayor's office and members of the city council.
About Anytown Neighborhood Coalition: A coalition of home and business owners concerned with serious quality of life issues in Anytown. Founded in 2000, we conduct monthly public meetings and help empower local residents and business owners. For further information, please visit anytowncoalition.org.
A petition is a document that contains multiple fields where the petitioner can record the names, contact information, signatures and dates of the signers. The bottom contains a signature field that the petitioner signs attesting that they witnessed and recorded the signatures.
I sign this petition demanding that the owner(s) / operator(s) to effectively mitigate or abate the noise from the racetrack, that causes a severe disturbance in the home and life of my family; for law enforcement to enforce the noise codes in this matter; for my elected officials to support legislation to protect the rights of citizens in this action.
I hereby certify that each of the individuals whose names are subscribed to this petition sheet containing these signatures, subscribed the same in my presence on the dates above indicated and identified himself to be the individual who signed this sheet.
Signature of Petitioner
You can qualify people to sign the petition based on how they fill in the survey. If you see that they are offended by the racetrack noise, you can ask them to sign the petition and invite them to attend a neighborhood coalition meeting.
The neighborhood coalition writes a position statement based on the results of the survey and petition. The document proves that the public overwhelmingly supports an effort to effectively mitigate and abate the noise from the racetrack. The position statement is presented to local legislators, law enforcement and media outlets. Coalition members follow up with newspapers, radio and television news stations with public comments on the issue. Archived articles and newscasts are placed on the neighborhood coalition website.
The media coverage creates a public relations situation for the operators of the racetrack as they must now publicly address the environmental harm from their business. It also puts public pressure on the legislators and law enforcement officials to follow up.
In public hearings and discussions on the issue of noise codes, special interest groups often use these tactics to undermine any meaningful legislation and enforcement:
- Will advocate the use of decibel meters and specific protocols in measuring noise.
- Intended to make it difficult for law enforcement professionals to cite offenders for noise violations.
- Police departments are required to buy expensive decibel meters and train officers on how to use them.
- Decibel meters require maintenance and calibration for accuracy that most police departments cannot do on their own.
- Decibel meters cannot be used to measure noise in areas where there are other nearby noise sources.
- When violators challenge the summons in court, they often claim that the exact noise measuring procedures were not adhered to.
- In communities where plainly audible standard is used for citing noise violations, police officers can more effectively enforce noise codes in the community.
- Will call for additional studies and research.
- Will often retain or recommend their own consultants to legislators and conduct lengthy studies.
- Intended as a delaying tactic and to diminish the effectiveness of the noise code.
- Will claim the legislation is discriminatory.
- Often claimed by motorcycle rights groups and associations by comparing noise levels and enforcement to other types of vehicles on roadways.
- By playing the victim of governmental and cultural bias, they seek to undermine any meaningful enforcement.
- Various regulations are required to address specific noise problems on vehicles: motorcycles with straight pipes, cars with amplified sound systems, car alarms, hot-rod exhaust systems, whistler exhaust tips, trucks with engine brakes and backup alarms. It is not discriminatory, it is specific.
- Will claim the legislation is unconstitutional and un-American.
- Designed to play on a common narrative that the government is intruding on or taking away the fundamental rights of United States citizens; the government is waging a war on civil liberties; the government is creating a nanny-state intended to take away freedoms.
- These claims are lost on the simple fact that unmitigated noise takes away citizens rights. The Noise Control Act of 1972 recognizes that noise pollution is a societal problem for Americans.
- All vehicles manufactured and sold in the United States are regulated in its assembly, emissions (air and noise), safety features, ownership and operator licensing, vehicle registration, road worthiness (including annual inspections).
- Operating a motor vehicle is not a right, it is a privilege.
- Will cite safety concerns for noise.
- There is no study on record or correlation between the noise level of a vehicle and its ability to reduce accidents. The claim that 'loud pipes save lives' is a myth.
- Leading automakers have testified in public hearings that car alarms also act as a safety feature for occupants to alert others in case of danger. There is no study on record or correlation to prove this.
- Will cite that the costs to abate or mitigate noise will be too costly.
- The unrecognized costs for a lack of noise pollution enforcement is lost worker productivity, lower test scores for children, increased crime in areas affected by noise.
- Will assert that majority opinion does not support noise pollution legislation.
- The Noise Control Act of 1972 recognizes that noise pollution is a societal problem for Americans.
- Public health policy is not decided by majority vote.
- Will use word-play and hyperbole to assert a position in their interest.
- The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) does not use the phrase 'motorcycle noise', they will instead use the phrase 'motorcycle sound'. They call legislation that limits motorcycle usage as "restrictions" instead of "regulation". In published articles, they have been quoted that motorcycle regulations "criminalize families". This kind of subtle phrasing is designed to spin their members, legislators and the media.
- Will assert that noise pollution is diminishing.
- With an increasing prevalence of noise making technologies in vehicles, noise complaints are increasing.
- According to Harley-Davidson Motor Company, negative news stories regarding motorcycle noise have increased more than four hundred percent in the past ten years.
In California, frustrated residents lobbied the Riverside Board of Supervisors for effective legislation that would limit the use of noisy off-road vehicles on private land. Supporters testified that they had become hostages in their own homes to neighbors who set up illegal dirt tracks in their backyards and rode motorcycles for hours at a time.
Because the county has a concentration of off-road vehicle businesses, special interest groups lobbied the Riverside County Planning Commission. They introduced "compromise legislation" intended to protect their interests and even brought in so-called sound experts as a means to obfuscate the issue.
Instead, the Board of Supervisors threw out the recommendations of the Planning Commission and passed an effective noise code that sets limits on off-road vehicle use on private land and maximum allowable sound levels at the property line.
Residents were elated and relieved, but the special interest groups were outraged. In spite of the fact that riders are still allowed to ride on private property (with limits on the number of hours, number of riders on the property and geographic limitations), they formed a coalition and filed a lawsuit against the Riverside Board of Supervisors.
The real concern of the off-road vehicle industry is that other counties could introduce similar legislation. Nearby San Bernardino County has already proposed new regulations on off-road riding.