California to adopt ‘smart’ cameras to enforce noise violations

The state of California is considering leveraging enhanced surveillance to increase the number of motorists it can fine for noise violations. While rules allowing the state to penalize motorists for emitting too much sound have been around for years, they were tightened slightly in 2019 when Assembly Bill 1824 came into effect and established the limits of what is allowed today. The updated rules also required police to immediately issue a fine to anyone driving an automobile emitting noise measured above 95 decibels, rather than issuing a ticket. Motorcycles, which can sometimes exceed 95 dB in their original format if they are older, are limited to only 80 dB.

But it’s difficult to determine when or where someone broke the rule, especially since the measurements were originally to be taken under the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) test procedure J1169, so the Coastal Region is about to launch a new scheme which would introduce traffic cameras fitted with microphones similar to what we have already seen in New York and the UK. California executives believe an automated system would drive higher levels of enforcement by effectively mimicking the speed camera formula and applying it to vehicle noise violations.

Senate Bill 1079 specifies that a sound-activated enforcement system could be deployed along roadways that would become active whenever the microphone registers excess noise “to obtain a clear photograph of a license plate. ‘vehicle registration’. But that leaves AB 1824 otherwise intact, retaining existing decibel limits and a mandate to fine violators rather than allow them to repair their vehicle – minus a temporary grace period where drivers will be notified when they enter an area. enforcement using the new cameras and will receive a warning on their first violation.

The program aims to deploy the cameras in six major cities as part of a pilot program. Although they have not yet been named, those selected would have the power to place the cameras where leaders think they will do the most good. But they will still operate under fairly strict guidelines, at least initially. According to AutoWeekthese cities will also have to establish payment plans, deferral options and fine waivers for low-income vehicle owners who demonstrate a temporary or indefinite inability to pay – this is in addition to signage indicating that drivers are entering in a sound surveillance zone and the aforementioned grace period.

Although the exact amount of the fine imposed on the motorist has not yet been finalised, the money is believed to be used to fund “traffic calming” measures. These include adding speed bumps, bike lanes, secluded or raised walkways, roundabouts, and anything else California determines will reduce traffic noise and motor vehicle speeds. It is also assumed that some of the funding would be reallocated to law enforcement in hopes of generating additional revenue. Of course, that would only happen if the state decided the pilot program was a success.

The concerns center on the usual fears about increased state-sponsored surveillance and exactly how these cameras determine which car or motorcycle is making all the noise on a busy street. Opponents have also suggested that cameras equipped with microphones would violate California law that prohibits the recording of private conversations. However, these laws do not apply to law enforcement if the act is done to gather evidence of an offence, even if it is not technically related.

But the real pickle is the fact that many bony means of transport already exceed the limits set by the old AB 1824. Although it gives special exemptions to motorcycles manufactured before 1985, many modern bikes still exceed the limit of 80 dB. AutoWeek pointed out that the same goes for the 95dB limit on cars:

These cameras will pose a conundrum for manufacturers and enthusiasts. Some cars and many motorcycles, depending on the road and riding style, will easily exceed the 95 and 80 decibel limits straight from the factory. Based on Car and driver tests, examples include the 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS (108 decibels) and the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2019 McLaren 720S Spider, both at 99 decibels.

It will be curious to gauge the accuracy of enforcement devices, how manufacturers continue to modify vehicles for California markets, and whether graduated penalty policies become a model for fairer traffic enforcement. In the meantime, California residents will switch to the high-pitched hum of electricity anyway.

But what about vehicles with a leaking manifold or a muffler that has taken unforeseen abuse? These are things you could explain to an officer in the hope that he would get away with a warning. But cameras won’t tell the difference between an intentionally modified Nissan GT-R blowing flames from its exhaust and a mid-’90s economy car in dire need of maintenance because the owner is poor. The same goes for motorcycles built before and after 1985. They will all be handed automated fines through the mail, with people with valid legal excuses being mired in further bureaucratic red tape before there is the slightest hope that the fine will be removed.

I am not opposed to governments setting realistic decibel limits that match the desires of local residents. But the automated app seems like a Pandora’s box that might be best left unopened – although that doesn’t really matter at this point. With the California State Senate having already passed the five-year pilot program, the resulting legislation awaits Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature.

[Image: ChicagoPhotographer/Shutterstock]

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