You’re probably well aware that you can get ticketed without ever meeting a cop by zooming past a speed camera or running a red light. Now in the crowded and cacophonous city of New York, you can apparently get a fine by getting caught on camera (and noise meter) with a car that’s “too loud.”

A few months back, I reported on a bill that passed in New York State dubbed the “Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution” (SLEEP) Bill. Er, now Act. It’s a generally good idea, as indeed loud exhaust noises from four- and two-wheeled vehicles at unholy hours are immensely annoying.

But as I pointed out, what constitutes an exhaust system that’s, taken from the bill’s language, adequate, excessive, or unusual? And how is it measured?

Well, apparently now there are even more restrictions in place, outside of the SLEEP Act, that compound the clamp-down on loud exhaust for the good people of New York City. As reported by Brian Silvestro for Road & Track, NYC is using cameras with microphones to issue fix-it tickets or face steep fines.

Silvestro shares this image of a letter from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), posted to the Lowered Congress Facebook group, going over the details of which noise code was broken and, well, also how much deep financial doo-doo the receiver of said letter is in if they don’t show up.

So you don’t have to zoom in or click the embed, the letter in the picture reads:

“I am writing to you because your vehicle has been identified as having a muffler that is not in compliance with Section 386 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, which prohibits excessive noise from motor vehicles. Your vehicle was recorded by a camera that takes a picture of the vehicle and the license plate. In addition, a sound meter records the decibel level as the vehicle approaches and passes the camera.”

You can look at the referenced “Noise Code” here if you’re so inclined.

R&T did a little investigating for its post, and cited an email exchange with a New York City DEP spokesman confirming “the [car-noise recording] system is part of a small pilot program that’s been running since September 2021.”

So, here’s why this is some bullshit: how precisely measured is the exhaust noise being emitted? At what exact decibel is the camera triggered? Does the system know how to distinguish exhaust from any other nearby loud noise, which could be anything from a random person’s scream, to a nearby car that sets it off, to even a gunshot. The latter I’m not alluding to anything other than the fact that firearms are discharged for various reasons in American cities. What about side-exit exhausts that face away from where the microphone is? How close is the microphone to the vehicle getting measured, and what else is around to fill out the landscape, such as proximity to buildings, nearby parked cars, trees, bushes, etc. All of these can certainly have an impact on how sound is precisely recorded. While such variations can be minuscule, I’m wondering if it’d be the difference of, for example , 62 dB vs. 63 dB. Those probably aren’t the official figures, but you get the idea.

But that’s not all: Since it’s a fix-it ticket, would someone with a loud active exhaust just be able to show up and put it in quiet mode? A lot of factory exhaust systems can get quite loud, especially from the likes of Jaguar with their F-Type and F-Pace SVR, as well as various BMWs, Acuras, Hyundais, and even Toyotas. But they all have a quiet mode so as to not annoy one’s neighbors. 

This seems like a colossal waste of city money and resources. Between the cost of the camera systems themselves, time/wages of city employees to issue, measure, and analyze offenders’ cars, etc. And if enough fix-it tickets pile up, could this make having your ticket thrown out a real pain in the ass? Who looks forward to waiting in line at a bureaucratic establishment? Imagine waiting an hour or more at the NYC DEP’s location in Brooklyn, especially if you traveled a long way from another borough.

Again, I get it, and I’m on board with reducing the amount of annoying, shitty exhaust setups out there. I live near a popular Southern California thoroughfare that sees all kinds of loud vehicles at all hours of the day and night. Shitty aftermarket burble tunes are still all the rage out here, and it sucks. But if a city or state government is going to enact programs like this, they gotta make them a little harder to poke holes in.

Or, maybe the goal is to simply get people to fix their loud exhausts and not have to fine them. That’s all well and good, but doesn’t seem like a sound long-term strategy.

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