by Mark I. Johnson
November 3, 2006
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — One person’s music is another’s noise.
New Smyrna Beach resident John Shelby wants to turn down the volume on what he calls “boom cars” — vehicles equipped with large speakers that roll down the highway shaking windows and walls with loud bass notes.
“This is not music,” the 69-year-old said. “We are not talking about loud country and western music, we are talking boom.”
However, devotees of boom say they are just expressing themselves and should have the right to do so.
“The way I listen to music is the way I express myself,” said Shane Hood, a 32-year-old audio system installer at No Limits Audio in Edgewater. “If you go to a club or to a dance, you want the music loud. I like to hear my music loud.”
Booming down the road is also a way to be noticed, which can lead to dollars and cents, according to custom car and car audio enthusiast Chris Hansen of New Smyrna Beach.
The 22-year-old says there are people on the street who look and listen for high-end car sound systems with the goal of encouraging their owners to participate in shows where it is possible to win tens of thousands of dollars in prizes and equipment.
“I know some guys who make a living out of it,” Hansen said, standing next to his own custom low-rider pickup equipped with four 10-inch bass speakers.
For more than a year, Shelby has urged police officials to crack down on these drivers and their vehicles in an attempt to bring peace to his beachside neighborhood and end what he calls an “infestation” plaguing the community.
For Shelby, it is all a matter of where the music is being played.
“I don’t care how loud they play their music as long as it doesn’t infringe on my rights,” he said. “I don’t think I am doing anything to anyone’s privilege to listen to loud music.”
But when the boom shakes the glazing out of the windows of his house, Shelby said the “privilege” has gone too far.
New Smyrna Beach Police Cmdr. Bill Drossman agrees.
“This is one of my pet peeves,” he said.
But the department does not have the personnel to station an officer on every street corner just to look out for this or other traffic infractions, he said. Besides, “it is not good management to enforce one traffic infraction over another.”
Drossman said the department’s philosophy is for officers to use discretion. That means when an officer hears a car stereo from more than 25 feet away — the maximum distance allowed by state law — he or she can decide to issue a warning or write a $70 ticket for a non-moving violation.
Between June 2005 and June 2006, New Smyrna Beach officers made 200 traffic stops for noise violations. They gave out about 45 warnings and wrote 120 citations, he said.
That is not enough, Shelby said.
“This is disturbing the peace,” he said. “I can’t walk through town with my air horn, blasting it, without getting thrown in the clink.”
Boom cars are not just a local issue. In some cities, such as Lorain, Ohio, officials have confiscated and destroyed stereos of repeat offenders.
Chicago goes even further. That city’s municipal code says owners whose car stereos can be heard more than 75 feet away are subject to a $500 fine and seizure of their vehicle.
Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America, based in Madison, Wis., has been fighting excessive noise for the past five years.
“This is acoustic trespassing,” he said. “People should not have the right to trespass on (another’s) property in terms of noise.”
And like a trespasser, violators should be subject to criminal penalties rather than civil fines, Rueter said.
New Smyrna Beach is not alone in citing offenders. In Edgewater, police issued 73 excessive noise citations in the past year, while sheriff’s deputies issued 24 tickets in District 5, which includes unincorporated Southeast Volusia County, during 2005 and 17 so far this year.
Oak Hill officials did not return phone calls seeking information about citations.
Boom aficionado Filippo Vaglica, 18, Edgewater, said when someone encourages him to lower the volume, his first inclination is to turn it up.
“If I put music in my car, I should be comfortable with it,” he said. “And I think it should be loud.”
But that does not mean he and others aren’t willing to compromise.
Vaglica said he could live with turning down the decibels in the evening, say, after 8 p.m., so as not to disturb people at night. However, he believes those same individuals should respect his right to enjoy his passion — one that has seen him put upwards of $6,000 worth of audio and video equipment in his full-sized pickup.
“Some people collect NASCAR stuff or have motorcycles,” he said. “This is my hobby.”