Question: Now that summer is almost here — and we are all outside to enjoy it — I have a question regarding the noise level emitted by motorcycles.
When we were young, there was an ordinance against “loud and excessive noise.” Loud mufflers on cars and motorcycles were ticketed for noise.
Why does it seem to be allowed now? Did the law change, or have the motorcycle dealers just gotten a sweetheart deal with the local authorities? These motorcycles seem to come from the dealer this way. — Kareen Shanks, Puyallup
Answer: No, the law has not changed. The allowable decibel level for new motorcycles (80 dba at 50 feet) is set by the Washington Administrative Code, and state law forbids owners from changing stock exhausts for pipes that make more noise than the equipment that came with the bike.
Some bike owners change the pipes anyway, either because of an aesthetic appreciation for the louder sound or because they think they can boost the bike’s power. Others believe that because loud motorcycles are more noticeable, they are safer. You may have heard the axiom, “Loud pipes save lives.”
Research tends not to support that popular theory, though, and bike dealers, including Harley-Davidson, generally advocate quieter bikes in order to prevent public backlash against all motorcyclists.
Dealers don’t have a “sweetheart deal” with authorities, but it’s easy to find aftermarket equipment online that replaces stock mufflers with unbaffled or barely baffled pipes, and a couple of wrenches is all it takes to install them.
Loretta Cool, spokeswoman for the Tacoma Police Department, said motorcyclists can be stopped either under the city’s public disturbance ordinance or state law (RCW 46.37.390), which addresses mufflers.
Fines can be issued for either violation, Cool said, and, based on the circumstances, the officer can impound the motorcycle.
“Usually, the loud noise is heard, the violator is stopped, the violation is explained and a ticket is issued,” Cool said. “If the defective or modified equipment causing the noise is not corrected, the cost of the violation is progressive.”
The first ticket starts at $134.