Reading last week about Edmonton’s new “noise cameras” made me feel kinda smug. My bike has stock pipes and I’ve never considered replacing them, even though it’s a Harley-Davidson. For me, a bike doesn’t have to sound loud to feel good, and besides, I don’t like pissing people off – especially not my neighbours.
In Edmonton, there are clearly a lot of law-makers who feel the same way, as well as concerned residents who are asking for the installation of these noise cameras. They’ve already been decried as a cash grab and perhaps they are, but that’s fine with me. If they keep vehicles within a reasonable noise limit – and these cameras don’t care how many wheels are involved – then we’ll all sleep better at night, literally.
I imagine this smug feeling must be the same thing people feel when they defend speed cameras. “Hey – just don’t speed and you’ll be fine,” they say, in the same way we’re always told that if we’re innocent of an offence, we have nothing to fear. But it’s not the same at all. People can be wrongly accused and judged for an offence, and faster drivers are probably just keeping up with traffic, but noise cameras? Unless the equipment is faulty, you’re clearly guilty of making a self-centred decision that just spoils other people’s right to a bit of peace and quiet.
(And don’t bother telling me that Loud Pipes Save Lives. They don’t, for reasons we’ve long since explained at CMG. I can’t think of a single instance in 40 years of riding when a loud pipe on my bike would have made me safer. An alert and defensive attitude, and an approaching headlight that can be seen from far away, is what saves lives. Save lives my ass.)
Last month, I spent some time driving in the U.K., where speed cameras are everywhere. I hate speed cameras. It’s not that I like to drive or ride excessively fast, but I do like to travel at my own pace and I do want to lean my bike around corners. In the interests of safety, most speed limits keep traffic at the speed of the lowest common denominator, and while I may not be the best driver on the road, I am more experienced and more trained than the worst driver on the road, so please don’t rate me alongside that person. This is the advantage of police officers watching the highways and pulling over drivers – they can make judgement calls and are encouraged to do so. Speed cameras do not make judgement calls.
In the U.K., you’re pretty much guaranteed to have your speed monitored by radar or laser on the motorways and I’m okay with that. There’s no driving pleasure on a motorway, except for the possible luxuries of your vehicle, and plenty of opportunity for some yahoo to endanger you by zigging and zagging around the lanes at speed. So the cameras are set and there’s no leeway for a bit extra – people are ticketed for 5 km/h over. Yes, the limits are set too slow and my vehicle can easily handle close to double the speed, but on the major highways it’s about getting someplace safely, not driving pleasure. Take the twisting backroads if you want to enjoy your vehicle’s dynamics.
The really clever part of European speed limits on major highways is that the recommended speed can vary depending on traffic congestion and the weather. Somebody in a room somewhere watches the road from an overhead camera and raises or lowers the limit on a digital sign as conditions dictate. It seems to work well, provided that person isn’t having a bad day.
But noise limits? They don’t vary, and they don’t give different amounts of satisfaction depending on urban or rural driving. That said, some performance car makers offer a button that will open the exhaust flaps to add some crackle, and others pipe in sound through the car’s speakers to add volume inside without affecting the exterior noise. Ford now sells a system in its new Mustang that can raise or lower the decibels from the exhaust, purely for the driver’s aural pleasure; the real intent is to keep it loud but be able to lower it early in the morning when you start the car and don’t want to annoy your neighbours. It can even be set to automatically keep everything quiet between certain programmed times, so you don’t forget. And Jekill and Hyde sells a muffler that can adjust its flaps with the flick of a switch to boost or reduce the sound from the exhaust.
Law makers say the noise cameras in Edmonton will only be installed in the city – there are no plans to put them alongside rural highways, where most Alberta properties are set well back, anyway. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if they put them on every street corner in the country, but that’s because I’m being smug. I’ll never be given a ticket for a loud pipe, and I wish I didn’t have to listen to those people who will. Hey – maybe they could turn Alberta’s speed cameras into noise cameras. Now there’s an idea…