A motorcyclist rumbles down Elm Street in Manchester on Friday afternoon. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER — While police in some New Hampshire communities were caught by surprise when a reduced decibel level for motorcycle noise took effect at the start of the year, Manchester police were right on top of the change.
Police Chief David Mara speaks often of quality of life issues in the city and noise is right up there as an irritant. So Manchester operates occasional noise-enforcement stations during the prime riding season, to test if motorcycles meet the new standard of 92 decibels while idling, compared to the old level of 106.
"We want Manchester to be a welcoming place," said Mara, and that includes for motorcycle riders. But not if their machines make too much noise.
Patrol Division Traffic Unit Supervisor Sgt. Andrew Vincent said motorcycles can meet the new lower decibel standard when being test ed, either at a checkpoint or during the required annual mechanical inspection, but still be a problem because of how they are operated.
Anyone who has stood in front of City Hall during a parade, while a band with lots of brass playing or a fire truck with siren sounding passes by, knows that location can magnify sound.
In addition, when exhaust pipes are modified or changed to straight pipes — the equivalent of a rusted out or missing car muffler — the noise level wouldn't be acceptable.
The Manchester Police Department motorcycles have stock pipes, but even they can make too much noise. "The manner in which you ride determines how much noise you make," said Vincent.
He rejected the popular argument that loud pipes save lives, which has its own acronyn: LPSL.
"Conscientious riders who keep their eyes open and anticipate road hazards will save lives," he said. "Inexperienced riders who take the time to attend a motorcycle riders' safety course will save lives."
While enforcement is part of the solution, Vincent said: "We need to educate people."
A group of motorcyclists can move through the downtown area without generating complaints, but if they choose to show off by revving their engines repeatedly, it can be very disruptive, he said.
There are other sources of noise complaints. Loud music, from vehicles or residences, is one source. So are parties. So are rusted or missing mufflers on cars and trucks.
But motorcycles definitely prompt calls to police, although it can be frustrating to address because of how noise must be measured. Sometimes operators are given a warning instead of a citation. Other times, they are cited for defective equipment and given time to remedy the problem.
Vincent said noise complaints this year are about the same as last year. But he couldn't say whether it's because more riders are taking the decibel reduction seriously, are sticking with their factory-issue exhaust pipes, or because they have become more considerate.