Noisy Car Stereos, Exhaust Keep Getting Drivers Pulled Over

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on September 04, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If your car stereo is too loud it could be labeled as a noisy nuisance and depending on where you live you could be stuck with a fine. That's what happened to Tom Palumbo when he tried to crank the bass while driving in Florida.

Florida law makes it a criminal offense to drive with a stereo so loud that a police officer can hear it from 25 feet or more away. It's not the only state that has stepped up enforcement of car noise ordinances and passed new ones in the last few years.

Laws vary among states on what level of noise is considered offensive and when police can issue a ticket.

Sometimes the punishment is a fine but sometimes it's much worse than that.

Mark Cannon of Sarasota, Florida got his car impounded when he was stopped for playing loud music, reports USA Today. Luckily, the ACLU stepped up to defend him and as part of the case settlement the city will no longer enforce the ordinance.

One of the problems for laws like Florida's is that they don't provide an easily-measurable objective standard. The term "audible" depends on who is listening to the noise and the sensitivity of their hearing.

Cities like Elkhart, Indiana have tried to combat this by making the standard more objective according to USA Today. The city's noise ordinance makes it unlawful to play music at a volume that can be heard at 83 decibels when from 35 feet away.

For a point of comparison, a diesel truck driving 40 mph is 84 decibels when heard from 50 feet away according to Purdue University's chemistry department.

Decibel measurement is more objective but monitoring equipment can be expensive and it requires training before police can use it effectively.

Whenever a law requires some level of subjective observation, there is a risk of abuse of discretion. Laws that are enforced subjectively could be accused of being discriminatory.

That is especially true if enforcement appears to target a particular group.

If you've gotten a ticket for a stereo that is too loud, it's possible to raise a defense. Unlike a speeding ticket, there's not always objective evidence in a noise violation so call an attorney if you think the ticket is wrong.

Good taste in music isn't a crime but blasting your music for everyone to hear just might be. Turn down the tunes and no one will have a reason to complain about your 'noisy car.' If you turn it up, be prepared to pay the fine if you get stopped.

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