Opinion: Bring on the cameras!

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.

Speed limits on the German Autobahn are variable, depending on conditions.

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…


  1. I’m confused. I don’t see how you can argue that speed enforcement should be subjective to personal judgement (which I agree) then turn around and say that noise should not.

    Db readings vary significantly based on distance and angle between the source and measuring device, air pressure, presence of noise reflective surfaces, etc. Accuracy should be subject to the tests of law, just like an officer needs to show that his radar was properly calibrated if you are to be convicted for speeding in court. Why should noise measuring devices be treated differently?

    Even if these devices could be deemed reliable, who sets the standards for noise? A municipal council will lower a speed limit because a couple neighbours think the public road they have chosen to live along is their private property. What’s to stop a Council from lowering the approved noise threshold to satisfy the vocal minority? And since a reduction of just 3 Db effectively halves the sound intensity (https://www.noisehelp.com/decibel-scale.html), a small change in the standards could have significant consequences.

    How are these standards made public. Speed laws are shown on a sign, and the speed you are doing shows up on your speedometer. At any given moment you can directly control if you want to exceed the limit, and if so, by how much. A rider/driver can regulate the noise they make by the gear they chose to be in and how high they rev the throttle, but there is no equivalent of a speedometer to tell you what noise level you are making and no signs to say what noise is acceptable, so no way for you to regulate whether you are breaking the law or not.

    I am not a loud pipe advocate. But I can’t support any system of enforcement that automatically presumes the assumption of guilt without a proper test under the law, nor one that relies on the judgement of a machine instead of a human being in the laying of a charge in the first place.

  2. I love the burble of a nice engine. But I must say, there seem to be alot of obnoxious pipes around. The other day I asked a question if a young guy working at Canadian Tire. Seeing my helmet in my hand he said, “hey I have a bike too! You’ve probably HEARD me around town”.

    At that point I lost my normally strong desire to engage in conversation with another biker.

  3. Here on the Lakeshore in Toronto’s west end we have a problem with open-pipe Harleys.
    Man those things are LOUD!
    Thankfully they mostly sit around at Timmy’s and don’t actually ride much, heheh…

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