Limiting Motorcycle Exhaust Noise -- A Proposal
A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code (MVC) AND ITS REGULATIONS
The EPA, and hence the federal government, occupy the field of regulating the manufacture of original and replacement equipment motorcycle exhaust systems. Nevertheless, states, including Pennsylvania, are free to pass laws governing motor vehicle noise. In fact, states can adopt EPA motorcycle exhaust system manufacturing standards into their own motor vehicle laws.
The authors submit that Pennsylvania should undertake such an adoption by way of legislative and administrative amendment of the MVC and the regulations promulgated thereunder. The authors' proposal simplifies the "label match-up" plan so that inspection mechanics and law enforcement personnel need only check for one label, that is, the label embossed on the muffler.
The principal statutory changes would: (1) equip the Department of Transportation [hereinafter PennDot] with the power to incorporate EPA standards into the MVC, and (2) require EPA-compliant exhaust systems and prohibit noncompliant exhaust systems and other noise-making devices. Additional third and fourth changes would establish appropriate penalties for non-compliance. The regulations requiring amendment are found in title 67 of the Pennsylvania Code, chapter 175, titled "Vehicle Equipment and Inspection." This chapter is an extensive and instructional section of the PennDot regulations. Inspection mechanics, such as the principal co-author, utilize this chapter, commonly referred to as the "Inspection Code," on a daily basis.
These regulations would repeat the statutory admonition requiring motorcycles to be equipped with an EPA-compliant exhaust system, and banning non-EPAcompliant exhaust systems. The Inspection Code would also be amended to specifically instruct mechanics regarding how to reject a motorcycle on the basis of its exhaust system, and would set forth definitions for guidance.
Authorizing PennDot to Promulgate Vehicle Equipment Standards Established Under the Auspices of the Noise Control Act (MVC)
The MVC provides that PennDot should promulgate vehicle equipment standards for vehicles, equipment, and devices, as generally established by the legislature. The law permits incorporation of several federal standards, which are listed, but omits the NCA. This provision of the MVC also establishes that "[federal] standards" supersede state standards "applicable to the same aspect of performance for the vehicle or item of equipment." Because Pennsylvania law lacks standards applicable to mufflers, the NCA should be included in MVC's definition of "federal standards." Inclusion of the NCA would ensure that the federal regulations defining EPA-compliant mufflers supersede current state law and require muffler labeling.
Requiring an EPA-compliant System, Prohibiting the Non-compliant, and Proscribing Loud Non-regulated Mufflers and Devices (MVC and Inspection Code)
The core of the authors' proposal is an amendment to the MVC § 4523, which governs exhaust systems, mufflers, and noise control. As discussed in the introduction, the MVC requires that all vehicles "be equipped with a muffler or other effective noise suppressing system in good working order." Furthermore, the noise suppressing system is to be "in constant operation". The subsection concludes that "no muffler or exhaust system shall be equipped with a cutout, bypass or similar device." The MVC also prohibits modification of exhaust systems if the resulting noise is increased beyond that allowed by PennDot regulations. These general provisions do not ensure quiet motorcycles. The term “muffler” is not defined to mean "EPA-compliant muffler." Moreover, pass-by tests, the current method of enforcing sound levels, are unworkable and unpopular with the police. To correct this, the pertinent sub-division of the MVC97 and the Inspection Code, governing motorcycle exhaust systems should be greatly expanded. The proposed statute includes a specific reference to the standard muffler label language required under federal regulations.
The statute would provide as follows:
All motorcycles subject to U.S. EPA noise emissions regulations (i.e, all motorcycles manufactured after December 31, 1982), shall be equipped with an EPA-approved exhaust system, with a label embossed on the muffler that states:
"THIS (MANUFACTURER’S NAME) EXHAUST SYSTEM (SERIAL NUMBER) MEETS EPA NOISE EMISSION REQUIREMENTS OF (NOISE EMISSION STANDARD) DBA FOR THE FOLLOWING MOTORCYCLES: (LIST OF MODEL SPECIFIC CODES). INSTALLATION OF THIS EXHAUST SYSTEM ON MOTORCYCLE MODELS NOT SPECIFIED MAY VIOLATE FEDERAL LAW."
Every motorcycle shall be equipped with a muffler that substantially reduces exhaust noise. If not originally equipped, the muffler must reduce noise to levels similar to that of the vehicle's original equipment. The muffler may not show evidence of modifications or external repair. No muffler or exhaust system shall be equipped with a cutout, bypass, or similar device. No motorcycle shall be equipped with a straight pipe exhaust system regardless of the presence of baffles, or a hollow core muffler, or a muffler with a label affixed that implies that the muffler is intended for closed course or competition use, or a device that either electronically or mechanically amplifies exhaust noise. No exhaust system shall be equipped with whistle tips or other devices to produce a high pitch noise. No motorcycle shall emit a sharp, harsh, or unreasonably loud noise while momentarily revving the engine while the vehicle is stationary.
The EPA-approved mufflers referenced in the proposed statute were installed on all on- and off-road motorcycles for sale in the U.S. manufactured after December 31, 1982. These mufflers are current, state-of-the-art sound-suppressing devices that achieve substantial reductions in exhaust noise levels. They are constructed with welded or riveted seams and joints. Beause of this construction, modifications to increase noise are difficult to make without causing obvious signs of mutilation and alterations to their appearance.
As expressed in the proposed statute, all EPA-approved exhaust systems feature a label embossed on the muffler in an easily accessible location that states the make and model of the vehicle, the not-to-exceed sound limits, and a model and/or serial number. The label certifies that the exhaust system, when installed on its corresponding vehicle, passed the federal EPA noise level test, and does not exceed its prescribed sound level (currently at 80 dBA). The language proposed by the authors is derived from the EPA regulations that created the labels. As noted in the prior section, an EPA-compliant motorcycle leaves the factory with two labels: one on the chassis, and the other embossed on the muffler. Under this simplified plan, the MVC and its regulations are altered to reference only the muffler label. The presence or absence of this label would thus be the focus of inspection mechanics and law enforcement personnel in determining the legality of a motorcycle exhaust system.
The proposed ban on cutouts and bypasses is aimed at devices attached to exhaust systems that allow the operator to temporarily avoid the muffling effect of the exhaust system and make intermittent loud noise. A ban on such devices actually exists in another provision of the MVC applicable to the exhaust systems of all vehicles.
The proposed ban on whistle tips and similar features is aimed at exhaust-system-related devices that are affixed specifically to make noise and attract attention. The Inspection Code already directs that motorcycles with sirens, bells, and whistles be rejected.
The authors propose that this prohibition be extended to exhaust-system based noisemakers.
Establishing Penalties on Operators (MVC)
Current law provides for only de minimis penalties for modifying an exhaust system to make it produce noise in excess of current regulation-based maximums. More onerous penalties must be enacted for two reasons. First, fines levied by law enforcement personnel, not merely rigorous inspections, are necessary to ensure compliance with the proposed statute. Shocking as it may seem, it is likely that, if the MVC is changed, many vehicle owners will simply stop having their motorcycles inspected and take their chances with getting stopped by the police. The principal co-author repairs at least fifty regularly-used motorcycles per year with either no inspection sticker or one that is several years out of date. Second, given the substantial income of many motorcyclists, only a significant fine will deter owners into compliance with the regulations.
Deterrence can be accomplished by adding a subsection (g) to the relevant section of the MVC. This addition would provide as follows: "Penalty. – Any person operating a motorcycle in violation of any of the provisions of 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. §4523(f) is guilty of a summary offense and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $1000, and upon second and subsequent violations shall be subject to a fine of $2000."
Establishing Penalties on Inspection Mechanics (MVC)
Onerous penalties on uncooperative inspection mechanics must also be enacted to ensure compliance with the changes proposed above. Many motorcycle dealerships and smaller repair shops/inspection stations likely sell customers loud aftermarket exhaust systems at a considerable cost ($300 to $1000), and install them on new $8,000 to $20,000 motorcycles. These customers may feel that shops "owe them an inspection sticker." The motorcycle shops may also feel obliged to keep their customers happy. Moreover, many motorcycle shops and dealerships are staffed with like-minded motorcycle enthusiasts who endorse and enjoy the mystique of loud motorcycles.
To ensure compliance, the authors submit [that] fines should be imposed on retailers and repair shops that do not adhere to the proposed changes. This proposal can be accomplished by adding the following language to the provision of the MVC addressing issuance of inspection certificates:
(f) Motorcycle exhaust systems – An inspection mechanic and the inspection station, where either issued an inspection certificate to a motorcycle that is in violation of 75 Pa. C.S. § 4523(f) (relating to motorcycle exhaust systems, mufflers, and noise control), commits a summary offense. Both the inspection mechanic and the inspection station owner shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of $1,000, in addition to current penalties and suspensions.
Amending the Inspection Code to Effectuate [i.e., accomplish] Changes to the MVC
The regulations comprising the "Inspection Code" should be amended to reflect and further detail the changes in the MVC. As indicated above, the regulations, formally titled "Vehicle Equipment and Inspection," are extensive, instructional provisos that mechanics, such as the principal co-author, actually utilize on a daily basis. These regulations essentially form the inspection mechanic’s manual. Therefore, the authors submit that the following provisions should be added to the appropriate section of the MVC:
(5) Inspect the exhaust system and reject if one or more of the following apply:
(i) The vehicle, if manufactured after December 31, 1982, is not equipped with an EPA-approved muffler, with a label embossed on the muffler which states: "This (manufacturer's name) exhaust system (serial number) meets EPA noise emission requirements of (noise emission standard) dBA for the following motorcycles: (list of model specific codes). Installation of this exhaust system on motorcycle models not specified may violate Federal law."
(ii) The vehicle, if manufactured before January 1, 1983, is equipped with:
(a) Straight pipe exhaust system, with or without baffles; (b) Hollow-core (open center design) mufflers; or
(c) Any muffler with a label affixed that implies the muffler is intended for closed-course or competition use.
(iii) For all motorcycles, regardless of manufacture year, reject if: (a) The muffler has signs of tampering or modifications either externally or internally (as viewed by peering through the exhaust outlet with bright light) or signs of external repair; (b) The muffler has a cap or device unless otherwise originally equipped that prevents a thorough inspection of the muffler; (c) The vehicle emits a sharp, harsh or unreasonably loud noise while momentarily revving the engine while the vehicle is stationary; (d) The exhaust system is equipped with a device that will amplify exhaust noise, either electronically or mechanically; (e) The exhaust system is equipped with whistle tips or other devices to produce a high-pitched noise; or (f) The vehicle has no muffler, or an ineffective muffler.
In addition, the following definitions should be provided for cross-reference to the regulations and to the MVC and added to the definitional regulations that precede the Inspection Code:
EPA-approved muffler – A motorcycle exhaust system component that bears an embossed label that certifies the listed make and model of the motorcycle does not exceed either 83 dBA for motorcycles manufactured from January 1, 1983 to December 31, 1985 or 80 dBA for motorcycles manufactured after January 1, 1986.
Muffler – An exhaust system component that substantially reduces exhaust noise. If not the original equipment, the muffler must reduce noise to levels similar to that of the vehicle's original equipment.
Straight pipe exhaust system – A motorcycle exhaust system with the outward appearance of a uniform, consistent diameter the entire length of the system.
Baffles – A removable aftermarket motorcycle exhaust system component that is designed to reduce exhaust noise.
Hollow-core muffler – A muffler that has an exhaust inlet visible from the exhaust outlet.
The proposed changes would have no effect on 80 to 90% of the 276,000 motorcycles on the road in Pennsylvania today. The remaining 10-20% of motorcycles would need only $400 to $1,200 in corrective repairs to achieve compliance with the proposed changes. Used parts would cost about half of this amount. Considering the prevalence of used parts available on the Internet, there is no reason why most motorcycles cannot become compliant with these proposed changes. An alleged lack of availability of new or original equipment is not a legitimate argument against the authors' proposal.
Read the full text here.
The D.D. Note: Italics and boldface ours.
Read the full text here.
The D.D. Note: Italics and boldface ours.
For Further Reading
- New Hampshire Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles
- NHCALM Website
- U.S. EPA - Frequently Asked Questions
- Indiana Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles
- Maine Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles
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