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  • Writer's pictureMatt Harrison

Am I jerk not to get my muffler fixed?

Here’s my dilemma: my car is loud. An unidentifiable piece of the muffler fell off recently and ever since my car sounds like a Harley. I’d love to get it fixed, but the car is old and repairs are likely to be costly. My dilemma: Why should I pay hundreds of dollars to quieten my car?

First, some context.

During the peak of the pandemic, I experienced something that only happens on Christmas Day: North America more or less stopped. For me, living along the 366 in Edelweiss, that meant the highway was almost devoid of vehicles. Those three weeks in spring when things were really bad, were also auditory bliss. My family slept soundly and I could finally open the windows and hear only birds.

But as the lockdown eased, the noise returned. As it got warmer, motorcycles, especially, created a never-ending cacophony.

For some reason Quebec Transport (and other provinces too) allows motorcycles to produce noise at levels that other vehicles – like my car – can not. Typically cars cannot exceed 83 decibels. When it comes to motorcycles, “...the level allowed is 100 decibels; where the engine is idling, the level allowed is 92 decibels,” according to Transport Quebec.

With regard to sound levels and hearing loss, the Government of Canada’s website states “exposure to 85 dBA for eight hours daily ... as the limit for occupational noise.”

Throughout this spring and summer, we were stuck at home. The windows were all open since it was unusually hot. That meant my family was exposed to 85 dBA (trucks, cars, transport trailers) for far more than eight hours a day — more like 14 hours (8 a.m. to 10 p.m.) for more or less six months.

This was worsened by the cavalcade of motorcycles that streamed by seemingly on an hourly basis. As noted, they are in the range of 100 dBA. That’s chainsaw levels (around 100 dBA). So, 14 hours a day of 85 dBA (with motorcycles ramping that up to 100 dBA).

As if that wasn’t bad enough — A Globe and Mail 2019 article, “Are there legal limits on motorcycle noise?” (June 3, 2020), discovered that “owners often put on cheaper [exhaust] pipes that boost noise...” Meaning bike owners modify their bikes to be louder — which is illegal in Quebec. But it happens and despite fines ($200 and $300), few are caught. A CBC article of the same title notes: “Noisy motorcycles not a priority for Quebec provincial police despite new rules,” (July 23, 2019) and found that the province only had six decibel readers with which to monitor traffic noise. Six. For all of Quebec! Sûreté du Québec stated in the article they had no intention of purchasing more either.

“Generally speaking, it is not a priority,” confirmed MRC des Collines Police Sgt. Martin Fournel regarding monitoring for vehicular decibel levels.

He said he couldn’t say specifically how many fines had been handed out by their highway traffic unit since last summer for highway noise, but “not a half-dozen, if they gave any.” He also pointed out that the unit does have the equipment to measure decibel levels, but that it has to contend with 2,000 square kilometres and six provincial highways.

“We have to put our resources into other efforts,” he added reluctantly.

Let me restate my dilemma in light of this information: Why should I have to spend money on a new muffler to quiet my car when motorcycles are allowed higher noise levels and aren’t monitored by police for having exceeded those levels if and when they do?

I don’t want to be a jerk, so I’ll likely get my car fixed, but it strikes me that there’s an unfair double standard happening; one that poses health risks. Given how we’ve been reevaluating how we do things since COVID-19, maybe it’s time we start having a conversation about this too — if we can be heard above the din.


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