by Kimberly C. Moore
January 18, 2008
MELBOURNE – Garrett Bell had the stereo turned up in his black Ford Explorer, pounding out Yung Joc’s “Knock It Out” as a technician worked on the sport utility vehicle at High Class Motor Sports on U.S. 192.
“I like to listen to it loud,” shouted Bell, 19, who recently returned home from George Mason University and plans to attend the University of Florida. “I like a lot of bass, too. It sounds better.”
But the booming rap that is the soundtrack of so many young peoples’ lives today is, like the music of generations before, an annoyance to some of their elders.
The thumping bass of loud car stereos can be heard in neighborhoods, where it wakes up people, rattles windows, sets off car alarms and disturbs otherwise peaceful moments.
Police have issued thousands of tickets since the inception of a law designed to keep car stereos turned down. Citations almost doubled in Brevard County during the past five years, and in Melbourne, more than 600 were issued in 2007.
But loud car music has one group asking the Florida Legislature to increase fines and make the citation a moving violation, punishable by points on a driver’s license.
Other groups are calling for a ban on the booming noise and for health warnings.
The problem became a legislative issue in the late 1980s.
Loud music was so prevalent that the Legislature in 1990 passed a law against “boom cars,” revising it in 1999 and again in 2005, when lawmakers allowed law enforcement officers to stop cars if they could be heard from 25 feet, instead of the previous 100 feet.
The law states that drivers can’t amplify sound so that it is plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more, or louder than necessary for the “convenient hearing” by those inside the vehicle in areas near churches, schools or hospitals.
Drivers who disobey the law could receive a citation for nearly $80.
“The people who get them really deserve them,” Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Channing Taylor said.
“They crave attention, and we give it to them in the form of a ticket for $77.50.”
Taylor described one recent stop he made for a noise ordinance violation.
He could hear the man’s stereo four cars back with his squad car windows rolled up and his police radio turned on.
In unincorporated Brevard County, the number of noise ordinance violations given out by the sheriff’s office in the last five years jumped from 153 in 2003 to 307 last year.
Citations also have increased in the cities of Cocoa, Melbourne and Titusville, with the numbers spiking at an all-time high in 2006 after the distance was changed.
“That definitely increases the amount of violators,” Brevard County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Andrew Walters said.
He added that agencies also might have had special operations in 2006, targeting loud stereos at mall storefronts and high school parking lots.
Although the numbers of citations from the sheriff’s office and from Melbourne, Titusville and Cocoa declined in 2007, a new push to strengthen the legislation could make future citations more costly to violators’ wallets and driving records.
Officials with Noise Free America are hoping lawmakers will up the fine to $200 and make it a moving violation, adding points to a driver’s license and forcing an increase in insurance.
The Wisconsin-based group is dedicated to fighting noise pollution, especially from car stereos, car alarms, leaf blowers and motorcycles.
“Seventy dollars is a little ridiculous,” said Jim Carrico, Noise Free America’s Orlando representative.
“We’re trying to make the law tougher. Florida is the second-weakest in the country.”
Others take it further.
The Web site www.lowertheboom.org advocates a ban on loud car stereos.
And The World Medical Association is calling on lawmakers worldwide to:
# Introduce sound level limiters in audio playback units.
# Require teachers to inform students about the effects of loud noise on their hearing.
# Support enforcement of noise pollution legislation.
Walters said cranking the volume is a safety hazard and a disturbance.
“Most residents find this behavior annoying and disruptive,” Walters said.
“More importantly, this behavior endangers other drivers by distracting them.”
Angel Gerena and his wife, Elizabeth, own First Class Motor Sports.
Angel Gerena said they install eight to 10 car stereos a day, charging about $35 each.
He said he doesn’t warn his customers about the law.
“Most of these guys who go crazy with these cars know the laws better than the police,” he said.
Despite his line of work, Gerena said he doesn’t like the noise.
“It drives me crazy when people drive by my house,” he said, explaining that some customers knew where he used to live and would crank up their stereos as they passed by.
“I guess they were trying to impress me. We moved to a community with a deed restriction” to avoid it, he said.
It’s not just the peace that loud car stereos are disturbing, some say.
Michael Scott, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and director of the Web site, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, said “noise from a variety of sources, including loud car stereos, can disturb sleep, increase stress, make people irritable, and make naturally aggressive people more aggressive.”
As with eye-catching clothing or other outward signs, blasting the music can be a statement.
“Playing car stereos loudly can be an act of social defiance by some, or merely inconsiderate behavior by others,” Scott said.
“For yet others, it is a passionate hobby, an important part of their cultural identity and lifestyle.”
It can also be an advertisement for drug sales, he added.
Scott said in some jurisdictions, drug dealers advertise their presence by cruising neighborhoods with their car stereos turned up.
A Melbourne man stopped by police during the weekend at Lake Washington and Wickham roads because of the loud music coming from his car was jailed on drug charges and violation of probation, officials said.
Johnathan Wade Smith, 21, was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to sell, possession of a controlled substance, trafficking in morphine and hydrocodone, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana and violation of probation.
Getting an earful
A lasting impression loud car stereos may leave could be on drivers’ and passengers’ hearing.
“It definitely ruins their auditory nerve,” said hearing aid specialist Kate Kribbs, co-owner of HearX on Harbor City Boulevard.
Kribbs said that hearing loss in adults typically starts at age 50, but for the next generation, it may start earlier.
“These kids in their 20s, we may see them in their 40s,” she said.