By on May 10, 2022

The State of California is considering leveraging enhanced surveillance to increase the number of motorists it can fine for noise violations. While the rules allowing the state to penalize motorists for emitting too much sound have existed for years, they were amped up slightly in 2019 when Assembly Bill 1824 went into effect and established the limits for what’s allowed today. The updated rules also required police to immediately fine anyone driving an automobile that’s emitting noise measured above 95 decibels, rather than issue a fix-it ticket. Motorcycles, which can occasionally exceed 95 dB in their stock format if they’re older, are limited to just 80 dB.

But determining when and where someone broke the rule is difficult, especially considering measurements were originally supposed to be taken under the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) test procedure J1169, so the coastal region is on the cusp of launching a new program that would introduce microphone-equipped traffic cameras similar to what we’ve already seen in New York and the United Kingdom. California leadership believes that an automated system would result in greater levels of enforcement by effectively mimicking the speed camera formula and applying it to vehicular noise violations. 

Senate Bill 1079 specifies that a sound-activated enforcement system could be deployed along roadways that would become active whenever the microphone records excess noise “to obtain a clear photograph of a vehicle license plate.” But it leaves AB 1824 otherwise intact, retaining the existing decibel limits and mandate to fine offenders rather than allowing them to repair their vehicle — minus a temporary grace period where drivers will be informed when they enter an enforcement zone using the new cameras and given a warning on their first offense.

The scheme seeks to roll out the cameras in six major cities as part of a pilot program. While they’ve not yet been named, those selected are said to have the authority to place the cameras wherever leadership believes they’ll do the most good. But they’ll still be operating under some fairly strict guidelines, at least initially. According to AutoWeek, those cities will also have to establish payment plans, deferment options, and fine waivers for low-income vehicle owners who demonstrate a temporary or indefinite inability to pay — that’s in addition to signage indicating that drivers are entering a sound-monitoring zone and the aforementioned grace period.

While the exact amount motorist would be fined has yet to be finalized, the money is supposed to go toward funding “traffic calming” measures. These include things like adding speed bumps, bike lanes, isolated or elevated pedestrian walkways, roundabouts, and anything else California believes might reduce traffic noise and motor-vehicle speeds. It’s also assumed that some of the funding would be rolled back into enforcement in the hope that it would create additional revenue. Of course, this would only happen if the state decides the pilot program was successful.

Concerns involve the usual fears about increasing state-sponsored surveillance and exactly how these cameras determine which car or motorcycle is making all the noise on a busy street. Opponents have also suggested that microphone-equipped cameras would violate California’s law that prohibits recording private conversations. However, those laws do not apply to law enforcement if the deed is done to gather evidence of an offense, even if it’s technically unrelated.

But the real pickle is the fact that many bone-stock conveyances already exceed the limits issued under the older AB 1824. While it makes special exemptions for motorcycles manufactured prior to 1985 — there are plenty of modern bikes that still exceed the 80 dB limit. AutoWeek pointed out that the same is true for the 95 dB limit placed on cars:

These cameras will pose a conundrum for manufacturers and enthusiasts alike. Some cars and many motorcycles, depending on the road and driving style, will easily exceed the 95 and 80 decibel limits straight from the factory. Based on Car and Driver testing, examples include the 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS (108 decibels) and the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2019 McLaren 720S Spider, both at 99 decibels.

It will be curious to gauge the accuracy of the enforcement devices, how manufacturers will continue to alter vehicles for California markets, and if the progressive penalty policies become a blueprint for more equitable traffic enforcement. In the meantime, California residents will be making the switch over to the high-pitched hum of electric power anyway.

But what about vehicles with a leaky manifold or a muffler that’s taken some unplanned abuse? Those are things one could explain to an officer in the hope that they’d be let off with a warning. But cameras won’t be differentiating between an intentionally modified Nissan GT-R blowing flames out of its exhaust and a mid-90s economy car that’s badly in need of maintenance because the owner is poor. The same is true for motorcycles built before and after 1985. They’ll all be issued automated fines by mail, with the individuals possessing valid legal excuses becoming entangled by new bureaucratic red tape before there’s any hope of the fine being dropped.

I’m not opposed to governments setting realistic decibel limits that mesh with desires of local residents. But automated enforcement seems like a can of worms perhaps best left unopened — not that it really matters at this juncture. With the California State Senate having already passed the five-year pilot program and the resulting legislation just waiting on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

[Image: ChicagoPhotographer/Shutterstock]

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37 Comments on “California to Adopt ‘Smart’ Cameras to Enforce Noise Violations...”

  • avatar

    I’d be hugely in favor of far more automated surveillance of non-speed related infractions: failing to signal, tailgating, hogging the passing lane, failing to keep in ones lane (aka texting while driving) etc. I think the authorities are way too focused on speed and they don’t seem to do any enforcement of other traffic laws.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I rarely feel endangered by someone who is going above the speed limit or happens to have an extra-loud vehicle. But I constantly feel endangered by tailgaters, people who aren’t paying attention, left-lane hogs that force everyone to rage pass on the right, and someone who makes sudden movements without signaling.

      I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I’ve seen people pulled over for speeding. However I can count the number of times I’ve seen people busted for anything else listed above on a single hand.

      • 0 avatar

        Red light runners are my bugaboo. Cops here on the left coast could do some nice revenue generation and live up to their public safety moniker by going after this type of hazardous driver.

        I don’t care about people going 85 in a 75. I do care about people going 60 in a 35 as those people are on their way to run a red.

      • 0 avatar

        What would you say to citizen enforcement like what NYC does with trucks idling for longer than three minutes? In NYC if you see a truck idling and document it you get to keep something like $90 out of the fine.

        What about expanding that nationwide for the infractions we’ve mentioned. If you see someone change lanes without signaling click your dash cam to save off the last 30 seconds and submit it and you get 100 bucks. Same for red light runners, tailgaters, left lane hogs, etc.

        • 0 avatar

          “What would you say to citizen enforcement like what NYC does with trucks idling for longer than three minutes?”

          On the face of it I’d say its pretty sick though I am not familiar with what’s happening on the ground. But its a slippery slope, today its idling tomorrow its did not tow the Party line or not celebrate the Dear Leader.

          One in six had some connection to the Stasi, this is not a society I want to live in. Check out the 2006 Oscar winning German film, “The Lives of Others” for a glimpse of life in East Germany.

          “That works out at around 1 Stasi operative for every 163 citizens of the German Democratic Republic, compared to 1 in 2000 in Nazi Germany and 1 in over 5,000 in the Soviet Union. The upshot was that everyone, but everyone, knew that anyone could be a Stasi member and reporting back on their activities to their hierarchy. Throw in the informers and that number comes down to around one snoop per 66 East Germans, and that number, too, does not include the inoffizielle mitarbeiter (IM), the network of informers that the Stasi maintained on a temporary basis. With them, it is closer to one in six.”

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          I wrote an article about the NYC idle enforcement and came out against it:

          Even though I abhor the examples you gave (needless idling included), I cannot endorse citizens snitching on each other for monetary gain. I am also vehemently opposed to automated traffic enforcement. If there’s an accident and someone records bad behavior on a dash cam, by all means, use it as evidence. But I don’t think constantly monitoring people and having them tattle on each other is what a healthy society does. In fact, there’s a wealth of historic examples to suggest it’s a sign that a nation is in very serious trouble.

          • 0 avatar

            Ah! Then you would support a system where you can click a button on your dash cam and the video is sent to the state police and the vehicle is fined, but there is no monetary payoff?

            I’d be fine with that.

          • 0 avatar

            Maybe if the person doing the reporting is given 10x the fine if a ticket isn’t issued.

        • 0 avatar


          I think if our goal is to exponentially increase road rage and violence, deputizing every person to issue tickets would be perhaps the easiest way of doing this.

          • 0 avatar

            Why wouldn’t road rage decrease since everyone is following the rules? No more rage passing on the right, etc.

      • 0 avatar

        There is no ROI for policing “tailgaters, people who aren’t paying attention, left-lane hogs that force everyone to rage pass on the right, and someone who makes sudden movements without signaling”. An investment in a traffic cam/microphone system run by a third party contractor yields many times that investment in revenue without the need for he said/she said court cases and excessive expenditure of fuel by government vehicles and head count to police these issues. A big plus factor is being able to say, “We’re DOING SOMETHING!”, to the taxpayers through various “news” outlets while raking in the cash with little effort. Hey, and it’s high tech!

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with your final point but I’m going to be welcoming the EMP to reset society back to 1900.

  • avatar

    “But it leaves AB 1824 otherwise intact, retaining the existing decibel limits and mandate to fine offenders rather than allowing them to repair their vehicle — minus a temporary grace period where drivers will be informed when they enter an enforcement zone using the new cameras and given a warning on their first offense.”

    Sorry, for clarity: are you saying that the new senate bill retains the decibel limits but removes that temporary grace period, or that it retains the decibel limits but that the existing limits are subject to a grace period (which will be retained as well)?

    I can’t rustle up a lot of sympathy for GT3 owners blasting their exhaust in residential areas, frankly. The fact that it sounded like that from the factory doesn’t change the fact that it’s waking me up in the middle of the night.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      It retains the dB limits introduced in 2019 but there will be a grace period during the pilot program where 1st time offenders will be issued a warning if they’re caught by one of the new cameras. Though the related documents are pretty vague on when this expires and leaves a lot of discretion to cities.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    You don’t need special cameras for this. If cops were actually patrolling the streets like they are supposed to, it’s easy to identify a car or motorcycle that is deliberately acting as a nuisance to others.

    The worst are the a-holes on the Harleys who love to throw revs while passing people trying to have a quiet meal or coffee at a sidewalk cafe.

    • 0 avatar

      MB, you are absolutely right. Traffic officers need to enforce all the laws, not just cell phone use and speeding.
      They apparently choose to ignore coal rollers, straight pipes, missing catalytic converters, illegally lowered cars, blacked out windows, missing mudguards, objects (such as stuffed animal collections) blocking windows, blaring stereos, and idiots who do not know when it is their turn to go at a four-way stop.

      • 0 avatar

        The fines are too small, or none at all. But they need that “Probable Cause” for when suspects leave the drug house, known warrant, or just 1:30 AM on a Sat or Sunday. If they do stop them for tint (or equal), and everything “checks out”, they’ll just give a warning and “bank” the PC.

        Instead, record the cops.

      • 0 avatar

        iLLeGaLLy LowErEd CarS

        Good grief

  • avatar

    You know what? California just keeps coming up with reasons to not go into their state. California dreaming indeed

  • avatar

    You’ll never have traffic cops permanently stationed in every residential area and every quiet sidewalk. If a few thousand bucks for a camera and a warning sign buys permanent peace and quiet for an area, I’m all for it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    At least with OSHA, sound pressure levels are associated with duration in order to define safe working conditions.

    I would hope that in this case, the occasional BLAT from a bike wouldn’t warrant an automatic fine. To my ears, the real annoyance comes from sustained noises, which ought to be tailored for each district in question.

    I’m also curious as to how they’ll distinguish among vehicles in traffic. Will they use an app like Shazam to figure it out?

  • avatar

    If the offending vehicle identifies as a quiet vehicle will the fine be waived?

  • avatar

    I’m awoken from peaceable sleep at least once or twice a week from simulated automatic weapons fire created by dbags and manipulated ECU’s. Enforcement can’t come soon enough.

  • avatar

    95 and 80db is too loud.

  • avatar

    they light off fireworks randomly around here, which sucks, scares pets, wakes people up. my big scoot has a yoshimura exhaust which CAN be loud. shouldnt be too difficult to putt by a camera

  • avatar

    The only vehicular noise that I find irksome, if I’m honest, is that which I doubt this scheme would be able to make a dent in. It’s subwoofers.

    I’m not sure if they’re as prevalent as they once were, but now that the weather is getting warmer, I’m getting the distinct pleasure of hearing my neighbor’s music blasting from his subs for hours on end. Since it’s usually not past 10 when he starts, there’s nothing anybody is willing to do.

    If you’re wailing your subs on the freeway, fine. I’ll be away from you shortly enough, but let’s just play for hours and not go anywhere. I used to have a set, but always turned them way down when driving through a neighborhood.

  • avatar

    Is there a camera that can identify Karen’s for ticketing? (and there seem to be some among the posters here…)

  • avatar

    If we are airing our gripes and hopes for future enforcement- here’s mine. Honolulu is famous for 35-40mph drivers in the 55mph expressway. Doesn’t matter what lane they’re in, people are scrambling to get around them, further adding to the CF that is our traffic issues.

    Oh, and just yesterday I witnessed an elderly Asian lady with her RIGHT turn signal on in the far LEFT lane, stopped in the dead of rush hour traffic with no less than 15 cars behind her pinned in. Yep, she was waiting to make a RIGHT turn from the LEFT turn lane and the look on her face was one of complete lack of care or recognition that she was causing a problem. This literally happens every day here. Drives me up a wall.

  • avatar

    I’d love to see noise enforcement cameras/sensors.

    I’ve lived 1/8 mile from a 6 Lane highway on a slight grade for 35 years (was quiet 2 lanes when I moved in). Especially in the last couple of years, I and hundred of my neighbors are often woken up in the middle of the night by jerks — like the “gunshot exhaust on each downshift” done via mods, the single cylinder motorcycle with NO muffler, and the 4 and 6 cylinder cars that sound like farts with totally illegal exhausts.

    On this road, 98% of the super loud vehicles are not poor people that can’t fix their cars, it 98% due to jerks. I’ve walked down this road many times and done my own informal observations.

    I own high performance cars and motorcycles, they all have stock exhausts.

  • avatar

    There is no simple answer to this problem.

    If you have the cops enforce it, then you’re taking a chance on them missing some guy running red lights, or tooling down the road with a .3 BAL, while they’re dealing with some kid driving a slammed Honda with a fartcan exhaust. Loud cars are a nuisance, but they’re not dangerous per se.

    If you have automated systems enforcing it, then it’s the whole “big brother” thing.

    If you decide the statutes aren’t worth enforcing, then that’s a whole different problem.

    On the whole, I’d rather have these enforced automatically.

  • avatar

    If this can reduce the number of modded Harleys and street racers with aftermarket mufflers, I’m all for it. 95dB is quite loud.

    It’s almost never the older vehicles that’s the issue but assholes who deliberately make their cars louder. And I won’t care if you can’t rev your ZR1 to your hearts content in the residential streets. That’s what the tracks are for.

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