When a motorcyclist revved his bike and disrupted the lunches of outdoor diners along Nashua's Main Street last month, Nashua police pulled over the driver.
"He had some problems as a result of what he did," Nashua police Capt. Bruce Hansen recalled Friday.
However, police didn't cite him for violating a revised motorcycle noise law that lowered the decibel level for motorcycles starting this year.
"We cited him for no muffler," he said.
Police can pull over a rider if they believe the motorcycle he or she is operating violates decibel limits and then test the bike with a noise-measuring device. But Nashua police don't often use their decibel meters.
"We kind of shy away from them," Hansen said. "They're a little bit harder to prove (in court). It's easier to prove whether they've got a muffler or not. You can actually see it."
House Bill 1442, which passed the Legislature in February 2012, reduced the legal noise level from 106 decibels to 92 decibels while motorcycles are idling.
Factors to consider
State Police Sgt. Stephen Kace, the liaison to the state Division of Motor Vehicles, said testing a motorcycle for noise isn't just simply pointing a decibel-measuring device. Certain conditions, such as wind and proximity to buildings, need to be considered.
"Routinely, the way it's been handled around the state is a law enforcement department would identify a safe testing area, which would typically be in close proximity to where complaints have been generated for excessive noise," he said.
Police would signal operators of suspected bikes to pull into the testing area.
In Manchester, Lt. Jim Flanagan said patrol officers don't usually carry noise meters in their cruisers but could call for one to be delivered as needed. Police, instead, set up a noise-testing station - a 32-foot circle with the motorcycle in the middle - up to a half-dozen times during the summer months.
"We'll have several noise-enforcement stations throughout the summer where we'll have an officer identifying motorcycles that appear" to surpass the decibel limits.
Manchester police might conduct a noise station at the corner of Valley and Elm streets, getting permission from a business owner to use a parking lot.
"We literally stand on the side of Elm Street and listen to vehicles going by," he said. "We'll signal to the operator to pull into the station."
Compliance time given
Police don't always cite operators and sometimes write up bikes for defective equipment and give their operators a certain amount of time to comply with state laws, Flanagan said.
Figures weren't available from the departments on the number of cyclists cited for noise.
The law that lowered the permissible noise level was not universally known across the state when a story was published in the New Hampshire Sunday News on June 2.
Several police departments said in that story they didn't know the state had lowered the decibel level. Candi Alexander, president of the New Hampshire Motorcyclists' Rights Organization, was quoted saying a motorcyclist couldn't be pulled over by police "just because they think your bike might be too loud.''
Efforts to reach Alexander for this story were unsuccessful.
Concord Deputy Chief Keith Mitchell also said his department doesn't monitor noise levels because it doesn't have decibel meters.
"Motorcycle noise is a quality-of-life issue," Flanagan said. "It's a big problem (in Manchester). It's a problem throughout the state."