by Michael Freeman

The Ledger (
(Lakeland, Florida)

January 11, 2008

I’m a fan of the organization Noise Free America and have written about them before. Any organization that devotes itself to turning down the volume — particularly on those car stereo systems that send out headache-inducing boom booms that begin to feel like a kind of Chinese water torture — has my backing. So I was intrigued to read that Noise Free America wants the Florida Legislature to more than double the fines for motorists who shatter a neighborhood’s peace and quiet with the thumping torment of their car stereo’s boom booms.

I love the idea of an organization fighting those who think they can disturb the peace anytime, anywhere … but I have decidely mixed feelings about this particular proposal.

If your neighbor pulls into his driveway playing a booming car stereo, that’s annoying. But if the neighbor shuts off the engine — and with it, the stereo system — the minute he gets home, the 30 seconds or so you had to listen to the boom booms don’t seem to me to be all that big a deal.

When I owned a home in Orlando, though, I had at least four neighbors who would come home playing their car stereo at full volume, get into the driveway, shut off the engine … but leave the stereo on. It would pound boom booms endlessly, as long as the owner wanted to hear that wretched music while inside their house.

I’d truly love to quadruple the fines imposed for them — the people who think a stationary car is a stereo system. Is life in prison too severe for a third or fourth offense? But the truth is, anti-noise and anti-disturbing the peace laws already cover these folks. The police can get them to turn it off and fine them if they don’t.

I’m not quite as upset about boom boom car stereos if I’m on Interstate 4 or the Florida Turnpike. Yes, it can be annoying when a motorist passes you and all sound gets drowned out by the thumping boom booms; but usually those motorists are doing triple the speed you are and are gone within seconds.

I’m more annoyed by motorists who drive through residential neighborhoods at a slow pace with those booming stereo systems, and I’d love to see them get slapped with a nasty fine. But frankly, how do you enforce it? Those cars move too quickly through the area for police to catch them.

That leaves the ultimate solution with police: to have them ticket motorists who drive cars with pounding boom boom stereos. But this is where I start to question the logic of Noise Free Ameria, just as I question the notion of pulling over motorists for not wearing a seat belt, for driving too slow in the left lane, for using a cell phone while driving, and the myriad of other proposals that have been made as a way to improve our highways and make them safer.

Whenever I drive on I-4, the number of motorists disobeying the speed limit law is astronomical. I can count on one hand how many obey the speed limit; most zoom by at scary speeds, including truck drivers. When you think about the terrible accident on U.S. 27 in Four Corners on Jan. 3 — when a distracted truck driver slammed into several cars, killing two women — and the horrible tragedy this week on I-4 near the exit for U.S. 27, that left four people dead and 38 injured, you realize how deadly speeders are. And frankly, I see absolutely no evidence that we have enough police to control and enforce the speed limits. So why would we want to tie up police on our highways by having them chase motorists with loud stereos? I’d rather see the speeders go down first.

I’m no fan of noisy motorists, but I see chasing loud drivers on the highways as a lost cause. Better to ensure that homeowners don’t have to endure their neighbor’s loud music than to worry about whether our freeways are nice and quiet.