Talking Points

Cities are too loud. We can fix that.

Does the sound of traffic outside your window make you want to hide? On Friday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a bill that could help. The new law increases penalties for modifications that make cars louder. It also requires inspections for motorcycles to make sure they're not configured for "loud pipes."

The New York law is just a small step toward addressing a serious problem. Noise pollution is easily dismissed as a minor annoyance. But scientists argue there are serious health effects of exposure to loud sounds. There's a reason construction and factory workers often wear protective earmuffs. 

Humans aren't the only ones hurt by excessive noise. Researchers found that birds produced quieter and more complicated songs when the pandemic reduced traffic. It makes sense. People also struggle to communicate in decibel levels that approach a jet engine.

The obvious objection to the New York law and other measures to combat noise pollution is that they interfere with individual rights. Americans treasure the freedom to drive where, how, and what they want. But there's no right to make your neighbors sick in predictable and systematic ways. Modifying vehicles for extra noise is more like dumping sewage in the river than cranking the speakers on your favorite song.

Motor vehicles aren't the only culprit, of course. Off the roads, some jurisdictions restrict the use of leafblowers. Those regulations are controversial and not always enforced. But the fact they're on the books encourages technical innovation and more careful use. That's an improvement if not a solution.  

Now if only my local authorities would find the courage to crack down on amplified buskers who turn already busy streets into a cacophonous ordeal ...