by Peter Leo

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

July 15, 2005

Boom-chicka-boom . . .

We’ve all experienced it, an otherwise peaceful day suddenly ripped asunder by headache-inducing music with death-defying bass levels blasting out of open car windows. How generous of these people to share their music with the rest of us! It’s called the “boom car.” Ted Rueter of Noise Free America, a citizen’s anti-noise group, calls it “acoustic terrorism.” The Christian Science Monitor reports that Florida — Miami is a hot spot for this type of boomer — has passed a new law that is part of a trend targeting the boom car. Any driver who plays music loud enough to be heard by a police officer 25 feet away risks a $70 ticket. It used to be 100 feet. The toughest laws: Chicago and New York City police have the authority to impound cars. Papillion, Neb., (pop.: 17,318) doesn’t fool around. If your music blasts beyond 50 feet, you face having to face the music in jail.

I can’t hear you

According to the Census Bureau, noise is Americans’ No. 1 complaint about their neighborhoods. Noise Free America says noise levels have risen sixfold in major cities in the past 15 years, and automobiles are the biggest source. Federal guidelines for industry say workers should not be exposed to noise of 100 decibels for more than two hours daily. The human pain threshold for noise is 120 decibels. Car stereos with 2,000-watt subwoofer speakers can provide up to about 135 decibels; the sound of a jumbo jet taking off is 140 decibels. A woman in St. Petersburg, Fla., was pushed one decibel too far, according to the Monitor. Last November, she won a lawsuit against a teenage neighbor, claiming that the constant booming of his Jeep stereo robbed her of the right to peaceful enjoyment of her home. The case was settled out of court when the teen agreed to sell his stereo and make a public apology. He also sold the Jeep.

Pro-noise lobby

Noise Free America’s Web site (, a believer in dialogue, has a section for noisy people to sound off, called, “I like noise.” Here’s one exhaustive e-mail, misspellings and all:

To Those against exhaust noise,

Exhaust “Noise” is an opinion. As matter of fact, it is your opinion, which means nothing to me! I should have the right to have and drive a vehicle with loud exhaust if I want to. What gives you the right to silence, and not give me my right to a proformance exhaust system on a vehicle that I bought and paid for. If you know anything about the history of what gets your a– from point “A” to point “B”, you would know that loud exhaust were around before you ever had a drivers lisence!

Don’t like it? Get some ear plugs!

Please forward this to anyone else that has a problem with my vehicles.

Thanks for nothing!


Dear Chad:

“The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.”

— John Stuart Mill

Howdy, neighbor!

Of course, a car does not have to be moving or have a humanoid in it to be a noise irritant. Who of us has not been torn from blissful sleep by the plaintive, persistent weep-weep-weep of a car alarm? According to my reading of history, not since the Pleistocene Age has one of these alarms gone off when some evil-doer was trying to break in. No, the real purpose of the car alarm is to keep the neighborhood on its toes. Let’s turn to Cinnamon Stillwell, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle about “those maddening car alarms that feature every grating sound possible, in endless repetition. Where’s a surface-to-surface missile when you need one? People do their best to ignore them, the police never come and owners rarely respond. So, since car alarms are obviously obsolete, they must be designed simply to torment human beings. This makes car manufacturers who insist on installing them and customers who seek them out either sadistic or oblivious.”

New York City outlaws car alarms, though not those factory-installed.

Just a whisper

Wouldn’t cities be more civilized if people drove less? They’d see more, too. That’s Gary Tompsett’s theory, and that’s why he invented the Edinburgh Rat Race Urban Adventure. The competition is expected to attract some 400 urban adventurers to the Scottish city this weekend. The primary activity is a sport known as free running, which includes such embellishments as leaping over rooftops. But the details of the high-jinks are kept under wraps until race time, so as not to spoil the surprise. Tompsett tipped his hand a bit. “I’m trying to arrange for them to go into a pub where they will have to pull the perfect pint — with less than half an inch of head,” he told The Scotsman of Edinburgh. They won’t have to drink the pints, though. Tompsett’s goal is to open people’s eyes to the city. While last year’s first ever Edinburgh Rat Race took in major landmarks, this year’s goes by more “edgy” locations, such as back alleys and cemeteries. Because of the 8 a.m. start — listen up, noisy Americans — there will be no starting gun. Tompsett said, “400 people will be anxious to get going but we will quieten them down and then I will whisper, ‘You can start now.’ “