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Vehicle Noise Limits and Acoustic Cameras

Anyone driving a vehicle with a roaring exhaust could soon find themselves in trouble, as the government are now testing acoustic cameras. In this article, we look at how this new technology works, what vehicle noise laws are currently in place, and how it will affect the motor trade?

CameraAcoustic cameras – What tests are taking place?

In June, the Department of Transport announced it had commissioned the development of a prototype acoustic camera system which would be tested in a number of locations over the following months. The cameras function like speed cameras but incorporate microphones to pick up noise emitted by passing vehicles.

If the amount of noise emitted by a vehicle is higher than the stipulated limit, the camera will take photos of that vehicle and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology can be used to identify its owner so that they can be fined.

Motorists won’t be subject to fines during the testing period, but if the system is deemed to be successful, it’s likely to be rolled out nationally. However, the government hasn’t confirmed how loud a car needs to be to trigger one of these cameras.

How noisy are vehicles in the UK allowed to be?

The legal situation regarding noise pollution from vehicles in the UK is complicated. The emission limit applicable across Europe for new cars is 74 decibels, but the limit has changed over the years, so it doesn’t necessarily apply to older cars.

Some UK police forces consider vehicle noise that’s louder than 90 decibels to be ‘a nuisance’, but that’s only anecdotal, so it’s safer to stick to the European limits.

Once a vehicle has been through the government’s vehicle approval process, it’s against the law to modify its exhaust to make it noisier. What’s more, motorists must ensure their silencers are working properly and mustn’t drive in a way that makes additional noise or they could find themselves in hot water legally.

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Trade Members and the Law

Much of the responsibility for making sure that vehicles don’t breach noise pollution legislation lies with manufacturers and importers, they’re usually responsible for putting new vehicles through the government’s approval process. However, businesses within the sector whose staff drive company or customers’ vehicles can also be affected.

Therefore, it’s an issue that mechanics, dealerships selling new and used cars, garages, vehicle recovery services, car valet companies and similar trades will all need to be aware of. Not only could you be in trouble with the police if you drive a noisy vehicle, but if a vehicle has been illegally modified, you could invalidate the terms of your motor trade insurance policy by driving it, so make sure you know what your plan covers and excludes.

The government may only be testing acoustic cameras at present, but the vehicle noise limits already apply, so motorists and all motor trade members should be aware of them.