by Brian Neill

The Metro Spirit

December 1, 2002

No doubt you’ve experienced the reverberating thunder at a red light, a pounding sound with the ability to rattle nerves and compound the problems of the day. Or, maybe you awoke last night to the throbbing, droning bass coming from your apartment complex parking lot. What began as a fad has now become ingrained in our culture, with debatable societal impacts, depending on whom you ask. They’re commonly referred to as “boom cars,” automobiles stuffed with enough speakers and amplifiers as to be too much sound system for even a large home.

And the trend has left the confines of the teen-aged set, expanding to include people in their 30s, and possibly older. People across the country engage in competitions to see whose vehicle sound system is the loudest and most clear. Some competitors have spent thousands of dollars on their car stereos just to be the loudest on the block.

In our own neck of the woods, drive down Washington Road on any given Friday or Saturday night and you’ll find carloads of teens and twenty somethings engaged in mock, decibel warfare. Mike Wheelis, owner of Innovative Audio, 3103 Washington Road, makes his living installing the huge “woofer” bass speakers and amplifiers in people’s cars. He thinks the trend is about innocent fun and the enjoyment of music, even though he’s been cited for noise violations in his own car — once, right across the street from his store, to the tune of a $125 fine. “As far as the bass, I hope kids keep on liking it,” Wheelis, 24, said. “It keeps me in business.”

Others, however, think sellers and manufacturers of the loud, booming stereos should be run out of business. One of them is Mark Huber, spokesman for Noise Free America, a Virginia based, grassroots organization whose goal is to quell boom cars and other forms of noisome annoyance. “To me, it’s just a violation of personal sanctity,” Huber said by phone. “It’s trespassing onto my personal property and robbing quiet out of my home. There’s neighborhoods where children can find no quiet time to read, to study, to learn, to explore their young imaginations and develop an independent personality.”

It seems that Richmond County residents also have had their fill of the loud car stereos. Major Larry Vinson of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department says that loud car stereos comprise one of the highest complaint categories in Augusta. However, after attempting to acquire the figures himself, Vinson said the department’s records division could not provide the data to accurately support that claim. “I can tell you that it’s one of the biggest complaints we get in the county of Richmond,” Vinson said. “Every neighborhood watch meeting that I go to, and I attend quite a few, one of the most often-said complaints is loud music.” Vinson said most of that loud music is coming from cars.

Richmond County deputies don’t give breaks to offending vehicles, either. While complaints about loud music coming from a home or apartment are first dealt with by giving the offender a warning, drivers of boom cars are cited without being given a second chance, Vinson said. That, in part, is because in the past, vehicular offenders — given their mobile nature — typically were receiving several warnings in the same day from different patrol areas, Vinson said. Georgia state statutes allow for the driver of a vehicle to be cited for a noise violation if the stereo can be heard from 100 feet away. A Richmond County ordinance cuts that distance to 50 feet, but Vinson said he encourages his deputies to go by the distance set by the state to make a stronger case in the event it comes to court.

Wheelis and John Arrasmith, manager of Innovative Audio, both think law enforcement is too harsh on boom cars. Arrasmith, a 28-year-old who first began installing loud stereos in his vehicles more than a decade ago while living out west, said it’s all about moderation. “I’ve been doing this for 10 or 11 years and I’ve got a stereo in my car that’s loud compared to what a lot of people have got,” Arrasmith said. “You know, I ride around in the daytime, going down the road, I’ll turn it up, but I don’t go down neighborhoods and out till 2 or 3 in the morning with it blaring. Everything’s got a place and a time.” Wheelis points out that even a factory-installed stereo, without the amplifier and large speakers, could still be heard 100 feet away if the owner turned up the volume enough. “It’s got its place. I don’t think they need to be messing with the kids as much as they do, especially on the weekends, like on Washington Road and things like that,” Arrasmith added. “But when they go off on the side roads and into neighborhoods, yeah, I see absolutely nothing wrong with pulling them over and giving them a ticket then.”