Vehicle exhaust noise ordinance taking effect on July 22; Thirty days of warnings then tickets are issued
In June the Seattle City Council adopted legislation sponsored by District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold to simplify enforcement of existing law prohibiting excessive vehicle exhaust noise. That law takes effect July 22. The new law applies citywide, on city streets. Although the legislation mentioned “highways,” in the Seattle Municipal Code section for noise enforcement, this just means any city road. The new law makes it easier to issue tickets by changing the standard to a sound that "can be clearly heard by a person of normal hearing at least 75 feet away from the vehicle," eliminating the need for the use of equipment to prove it.
Seattle Police currently issue citations for muffler and engine noise based on that same standard, which has been on the books since 1989. That's the City’s motor vehicle stereo noise law (SMC 25.08.515 (A)(2), But enforcement has required use of a sound meter, which police officers usually don’t carry, and meters require calibration.
The difficulty in carrying out enforcement was underscored as a problem by SPD in their report to the City Council. While there are muffler laws on the books, they are specific to whether the muffler is modified, rather than the amount of noise being made, and since it is difficult to determine whether mufflers have been modified, the laws are consequently also difficult for police officers to enforce.
The staging of the law was explained at the Alki Community Council meeting on July 19. Seattle Police Lieutenant Steve Strand whose beat is Alki explained that first came engineering meaning determining where the noise problem was the worst, what the noise was or is, and how to best prevent it, next up is education a 30 day period of warnings issued to motorists who are violation of the new law, followed by enforcement.
The new law reads:
"It is unlawful for any person to operate upon any highway any motor vehicle or any combination of motor vehicles under any conditions of grade, load, acceleration, or deceleration in such a manner that the motor vehicle's exhaust noise or engine noise:
A. ((exceeds)) Exceeds 95 decibels as measured by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) test procedure J1169 (May 1998); or
B. Can be clearly heard by a person of normal hearing at least 75 feet away from the vehicle."
This is a civil infraction and can carry a fine up to $500 though that's the top limit. First infractions are much less.
Jesse Robbins has been championing the noise ordinance legislation and a plan to offer a technological solution to the problem. He's met with Herbold in hopes of launching a pilot program that would potentially address the problem of officers carrying decibel meters. If such a system were to be established it would need to withstand challenges in court.