by Maria Planansky

Beloit College Round Table

September 18, 2006

Maggie Moss ‘08 began the new school year with a job search. Looking to earn some extra cash for her impending trip to Senegal in the spring, Moss found an opportunity from her Political Science newsletter: new Beloit College Political Science professor Ted Rueter was looking for student workers to help with his non-profit Noise Free America.

The current director, Rueter founded Noise Free America as a project for his Political Activism and Advocacy class, which he taught at UCLA. During his years as a professor in Los Angeles, Rueter found the city to be louder than any other place he had experienced before. Los Angeles’ abrasive noise pollution prompted him and fourteen of his students to create Noise Free UCLA in the spring of 2001. The group surveyed the UCLA campus and found forty-four sources of unnecessary noise. The UCLA assembly brought their findings to the chancellor and was met with a fairly good reaction.

The group then attempted to build a coalition through the Los Angeles Noise Summit. Representatives from the Sierra Club and Green Party were in attendance. Around this time, Rueter began to see his classroom project as something greater.

“It wasn’t until after the first month or two that I got it into my head to take our Noise Free organization national,” Rueter said. “I just didn’t imagine it up until that point.”

The national issues, Rueter said, are different from the strictly UCLA campus grievances. Specifically, Noise Free America has four complaints: leaf blowers, car alarms, boom cars, and motorcycles.

Boom cars and motorcycles already have legislation in place, Rueter explained, but authorities do not properly enforce the already existing laws. The public is accustomed to motorcycles’ loudness, but their high noise emission is not natural. Once a motorcycle is purchased, an individual makes after-market adjustments to increase the noise level of his or her machine.

Motorcycles and boom cars – cars that have amped-up speakers so their sound system booms – are part of the culture of making noise, Rueter said. “These people who drive boom cars and deafening motorcycles want to appear cool and be noticed. It’s testorerone-laden aggression.”

While Rueter understands that loudness can be viewed as a form of expression, he sees limits to the freedom of expression. There is no legal right to make noise and there is no legal right to disturb the peace, Rueter said.

Devices like leaf blowers, Rueter thinks, are just offensive. Originally conceived to combat water shortage in California, leaf blowers are a loud alternative to rakes. In his short time at Beloit College, Rueter expressed disappointment that the Physical Plant crews used these machines rather than rakes or brooms. The noise disrupts classrooms time where students need to concentrate.

Aside from leaf blowers and the occasional motorcycle, Rueter finds Beloit College and its city to be relatively quiet – with the exception of dogs.

“There is a real problem with dogs barking incessantly all day long,” Rueter holds, “people leave their dogs at home by themselves and all they do is bark. It’s very disruptive to people who, like me, use their home as a study for their work.”

Rueter proposed several solutions to the canine noise problem such as collars dogs can wear which prevent barking. There are also devices, which emit high-pitched sound waves that prohibit dogs from barking. Some models are so effective, Rueter said, that a dog will refrain from barking even after the device is turned off.

Aside from the dogs, Beloit rates much lower on the noise scale than the city of Los Angeles did. While there are no current chapters of Noise Free America in Beloit, the organization now has forty-five chapters in twenty-five states.

Noise Free America is in the final stages of completing its 501c3 form. The completed application will make Noise Free America officially non-profit with its allowance of donations to be tax exempted. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Noise Free America is invited to visit the website or call 1-877-NOISE-NO.