Photo credit: RDNE Stock project
by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies
For years, some New York City residents have complained about the extremely intrusive sirens of emergency vehicles. Some residents have conversed with hospitals to ask them to consider the less intrusive emergency vehicle sounds used in Europe. If, indeed, European countries use less intrusive sirens that can still get through traffic and reach destinations efficiently, then one would assume that New York City should consider using similar sirens.
A bill reintroduced by City Councilors Carlina Rivera (D-Lower East Side) and Gale Brewer (D-Upper West Side) would cap sirens at 90 decibels. This restriction is 30 decibels lower than the current level and the article notes that the proposed decibel level approximates the volume of a leaf blower. The proposed legislation appears to be reasonable.
I would assume that Councilors Rivera and Brewer have been in conversation with city residents who live near hospitals and have long complained about disturbing emergency vehicle sounds. They are well-versed in the European signals and have met with hospital representatives about lowering the decibel level of existing ambulance sounds. Many more people experienced loud ambulance sounds during the COVID pandemic and now understand how intrusive these sounds are.
Let me end by saying loud emergency signals are not “just disturbing.” We now know that noise adversely affects our mental and physical health. I would think hospitals are aware of the literature linking noise to mental and physical stress. I also believe that New Yorkers will not be unhappy if the city made the switch to European sirens.