With Noise Cameras on Horizon, NYC Could Become A Lot More Quiet

by SharonKurheg

There are a lot of adjectives you can use to describe New York City:

  • Busy
  • Fast paced
  • Crowded
  • Rude (*cough* nope *cough*)
  • Never boring

And many people would agree that the city is loud, too. After all, you’ve got car horns honking, enhanced mufflers, the screeching of the subways, jackhammers, late night revelers leaving clubs and bars, pedicabs with the radios blasting (know how I lost Whamageddon this year? A passing pedicab playing Christmas music. Grrr…), you name it.

Even before the pandemic, “Noise” was the biggest complaint to 311, New York’s non-emergency City services and information hotline. And according to the City Council, those numbers have increased by 241% since 2019.

To try to fix the noise pollution problem, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began a small pilot program in early 2022. “Noise cameras” were installed throughout the city. According to Gothamist, “These cameras activate when they detect a sound of 85 A-weighted decibels or more from about 50 feet away.”

A February 13, 2022 photo of an official order from the New York City DEP was published on Facebook by a page called Lowered Congress. It was addressed to the owner of a BMW M3; the noise camera claimed the car was too loud.

a paper with red marker on itThe notice, dated February 6, 2022, said, in part:

I am writing to you because your vehicle has been identified as having a muffler that is not in compliance with Section 386 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, which prohibits excessive noise from motor vehicles. Your vehicle was recorded by a camera that takes a pictures of the vehicle and the license plate. In addition, a sound meter records the decibel level as the vehicle approaches and passes the camera.

The order went on to tell the owner to bring their car to a location specified by the DEP for inspection. If they followed the requirement, they would have the opportunity to get the car fixed and avoid a fine. However, if they ignored the notice, they could face a fine of up to $875, plus additional fines for continuing to ignore the summons.

During the course of the pilot program, there were 218 violations to drivers of vehicles with modified mufflers and 147 violations to drivers who were honking their horns excessively. With that, the pilot program was deemed to be successful, and in early December, the City Council passed a bill that established a noise camera program throughout the 5 boroughs of NYC. The new rule would require each borough to have at least 5 cameras installed by September 25, 2025.

Just as with the pilot program, if a vehicle’s sound is over 85 decibels (about as loud as a lawn mower), the driver could be at risk for a fine.

The DEP will assess 311 noise complaints in each borough to see where they tend to cluster, to determine where the cameras will be placed. Fines will begin at $800 and could reach upwards of $2,500.

“We’ll always be living in a city and there will always be a number of different issues that we have to accept as part of life,” said City Council member Keith Powers. “But that doesn’t mean we should totally surrender ourselves to a noisy environment.”

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


John L December 27, 2023 - 2:28 pm

What’s next – AI-powered cameras to watch everyone that walks around NYC?!!
(Comment edited by YMMV to remove rudeness)

SharonKurheg December 27, 2023 - 9:10 pm

They’ve had cameras all over the city, in the name of safety, for decades; I’m sure that AI-enhanced ones aren’t far behind.

Christian December 27, 2023 - 2:50 pm

Clever idea. Hopefully other cities will follow suit.


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