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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lowering the Volume: Efforts to Crack Down on Loud Car Stereos

A bill is working its way through the Florida legislature to increase the penalties for increasingly loud car stereos. Currently, Florida law prevents anyone from playing a car stereo at a volume "so that the sound is plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more from the motor vehicle" or "louder than necessary for the convenient hearing by persons inside the vehicle in areas adjoining churches, schools, or hospitals." A ticket for a loud stereo is a non-moving violation and carries a small fine that many just see as a small price to pay for playing their stereos at the volume that they want. The new law, if enacted, would change the offense to a moving violation, increase the fine, and assign points; too many points on a driver's record can lead to suspension of driving privileges. The bill is supported by law enforcement agencies, especially in university communities such as Gainesville, where police are frustrated by having to respond to loud noise complaints but having their hands tied with limited enforcement authority.

Other states and municipalities are also cracking down on loud music. To reduce the growing volume, cities such as New York and Chicago are now impounding cars with loud stereos and holding them as evidence until the case is adjudicated. This provides a strong incentive for violators to appear in court and to pay their fines.

Aside from the annoyance most experience when forced to listen to a loud stereo, loud stereos on the road present a real safety issue to drivers for several reasons.

  • Driver emotions
  • - Emotions have a big impact on driver safety. Driving experts have long known that the key to safe driving is keeping your emotions in check. A driver who is irritated, upset, or angry tends to take greater chances or fails to give full attention to the complex task of driving.

    The driving situation, especially in urban areas is frustrating enough as it is. When a driver who is frustrated or angry is involuntarily assaulted by a booming stereo while stuck in traffic, the noise and irritation can lead to unsafe driving practices. In some cases, if a driver who is angry gets pushed over his or her tipping point the situation could become far more dangerous leading to a case of:

  • Road Rage
  • - Road rage is a serious and growing problem on America's roadways. So serious that the American Psychological Association has given it its own diagnosis; Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). IED results when a driver who is angry gets pushed over a psychological tipping point, usually by the actions of another driver, and lashes out in an attempt to harm or even kill the other driver. There have been documented cases of road rage caused by loud stereos with at least one case leading to the murder of the driver whose loud stereo precipitated the event. There have also been cases of home owners or non-drivers, killing someone over a loud stereo.

  • Physical effects - Studies show that people react physically to noise. At 90 decibels (dB) or above, studies have shown that the adrenaline reaction is so powerful that people can become openly hostile and belligerent. 120 to 130 decibels is the normal threshold for pain in the ears. The average "boom car" stereo produces 120 to 140 decibels.

  • Long term exposure to loud noises by pregnant women can influence embryo development. According to, a website devoted to reducing the amount of noise prevalent in modern society, "exposure to the high-intensity/low-frequency sound will negatively affect her unborn child, due to the fight-or-flight adrenaline response of the mother's body. If the noise assault is in the first trimester, damage to the delicate fetal organs can occur due to the interruption of normal oxygen and nutrient flow to the placenta. During the first 14 to 60 days after conception, important developments in the central nervous system and vital organs of the baby are taking place."

  • Listening to the road – Drivers need to be able to "hear the road"; in other words, drivers need to be able to hear and interpret important sounds around them as they drive. The sound of screeching tires or the fast approach of another vehicle can alert a driver to possible dangerous situations. Being aware of and getting out of the way of emergency vehicles can mean the difference between life and death.

Reducing the stress level on drivers and courtesy to other drivers, even when that courtesy is not returned, is critical to a safe driving environment. Fans of loud car stereos are naturally trying to block any legislation that could curb their desire to play their stereos as loud as they want. They also tend to ignore or discount studies that show the dangers of exposure to loud music. One such driver suggested that, "if you don't like it, just don't listen to it." That is somewhat like telling someone who is passing by a pig farm to "just don't smell it." Senses can't be turned off and the full use of our senses to the greatest extent possible, are important for safe driving.

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