Big Brother is listening: Traffic cameras can now issue fines to noisy cars in the US

If you thought speed cameras were bad, the technology now exists to record how loud your car is and issue fines accordingly.

A motorist in New York City has been issued an infringement notice after his BMW M3 was recorded by a new type of traffic camera that measures decibel levels as vehicles drive past.

Issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the infringement notice, which was uploaded to Facebook, ordered the owner of the BMW M3 to have the non-compliant muffler repaired or replaced or face a fine of US$875 (AUD$1220) for failure to comply.

“… 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,” read the infringement notice in part.

“In addition, a sound meter records the decibel level as the vehicle approaches and passes the camera.”

The notice summoned the owner to bring his BMW M3 to a specified DEP facility for further compliance testing where he would be “given the opportunity to bring the vehicle into compliance with City and State law”, warning that failure to comply would result in a fine if up to $US875 ($AU1210).

Section 386 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic law sets noise limits for cars to 76 decibels (dB) travelling under 35mph (56km/h) and 82dB over 35mph.

Similarly, motorcycles are subject to the same laws although are given slightly higher decibels limits – 82dB under 35mph and 86dB over 35mph.

American automotive publication Road & Track reported the new decibel-reading cameras are part of a New York City pilot program in operation since September 2021, which will be re-evaluated in June 2022.

New York isn’t the first US jurisdiction to trial noise-recording camera technology, with Knoxville in Tennessee also undergoing a pilot program designed to crack down on noisy cars and trucks.

Similarly in France, Paris is also in the midst of a trial designed to curb noise limits in what is considered one of Europe’s noisiest cities.

Authorities have installed a number of the “sound radar” cameras around the city and are testing whether they can accurately identify the licence plates of noisy offenders as the drive past. Paris plans to start issuing fines of €135 ($AU210) in 2023.

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