by Sandra Pedicini

Orlando Sentinel (

January 5, 2008

Anti-noise activists say blaring music from autos deserves stiffer fines

You’re sitting at a stoplight, relaxing to your favorite tunes, when suddenly your music is drowned out, no match for the thumping bass of a “boom car” that pulled up beside you.

Most people consider loud music from car stereos one of life’s little annoyances. But some anti-noise activists consider the din more than a mere nuisance and say it should be treated as such when officers write tickets.

They say that the music can pose a public-safety hazard, drowning out ambulances and fire engines trying to maneuver through traffic.

Legislators cracked down on loud music systems in 2005, allowing officers to write tickets if they can hear the music from at least 25 feet away.

Anti-noise activists hailed the 25-foot rule as one of the country’s toughest. But those same activists said the state didn’t make penalties — generally, fines in the $70 range — tough enough.

Now, local representatives of a national advocacy group called Noise Free America hope to lower the volume by raising fines — and slapping points on licenses.

Noise Free America representatives Jim Carrico and Judy Ellis hope to meet this month with state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis, who heads the Senate transportation committee. Carrico and Ellis propose more than doubling the current fines to $200. They also want to make excessively loud music in car stereos a moving violation, resulting in points on a license, which can lead to suspension.

Carrico, who lives in east Orange County, recently started a Noise Free America chapter to fight the commotion from the souped-up cars, often loaded with thousands of dollars worth of stereo equipment. Carrico said their noise has become a big problem in his Eastwood neighborhood.

“It’s an epidemic,” he said. “These boom boxes are just taking over.”

Cities around the country have cracked down on music from car stereos. In Peoria, Ill., police officers impound vehicles deemed too loud. The rules have been “very” effective, said Officer Ann Ruggles, a spokeswoman for Peoria’s police department. In June 2006, when the penalties first went into effect, officers wrote 104 tickets. In June 2007, the number dropped to 46.

In Hoover, Ala., an ear-splitting bass can even land drivers in jail.

Near-deafening music has become a serious problem, said Capt. Tom Stroup, an Orange County SWAT commander who lobbied for the tighter state law that went into effect in 2005.

“I think it’s responsible for lowering our quality of life and it’s definitely a safety issue,” Stroup said.

In addition to posing a public-safety hazard by blocking the sound of emergency vehicles, Stroup said, it can also decrease drivers’ reaction times.

High-decibel headaches don’t always end with the commute. Many people who complain about boom cars’ noise hear it from within their own houses.

Carrico and Ellis consider the boom-car drivers to be older versions of schoolyard bullies, assaulting their victims’ eardrums instead of demanding their lunch money.

“Unlike other forms of noise, there’s absolutely no justification for it except to say, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me, I can do this and you can’t stop me,’ ” said Ellis, a Noise Free America representative in the Tampa area.

In Orlando, the number of tickets spiked after the new rules went into effect.

In Orlando, 159 tickets were written in 2005 — most of them after the 25-foot rule became effective in July. Officers wrote 314 tickets in 2006, and at least 291 last year.

Ted Rueter, national director of Noise Free America, described a fine in the $70 range as “a joke.”

Boom-car drivers sometimes spend thousands of dollars on their equipment, he said.

Just ask Chris Prince, 23, who installs stereo systems at TimeNSound Electronics Store. He has poured $7,000 worth of sound equipment into his 2005 Nissan Sentra. Prince said he has been ticketed three times.

Prince said even a $200 fine probably wouldn’t keep him from blaring the music.

“It doesn’t matter how much the fine is,” he said.

“If I want to hear my music, I want to hear my music. . . . ”

Points on a license? That might give Prince a little more pause. But considering how much money he’s put into his sound system, Prince said he might risk a few points.

Stroup said making annoyingly loud car stereos a moving violation could be a deterrent.

“Every ticket I’ve ever written, they ask me one thing — ‘Points on my drivers license?’ ” Stroup said, noting that just last week he’d written a ticket for someone playing music too loud on his stereo. “That was the eighth ticket for the same thing,” Stroup said.

Baker said he’d have to learn more about the proposal but thinks if fines go too high, officers might become reluctant to write tickets.

“They make a judgment call. They feel the ticket amount is excessive and would be a financial strain on the driver,” Baker said.

“They’re human beings, too.”