Providence, RI is trying to crack down on loud noise

Photo credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Providence Journal reports that Mayor Brett Smiley is trying to deal with that city’s non-enforcement of its existing sound ordinance. He includes funds for decibel meters and training in his proposed budget so police can enforce the laws about excessive noise.

We wish him well but he may be approaching the noise problem wrongly. Noise enforcement using sound level meters is notoriously difficult because the offender may stop the noise if s/he sees an officer approachng or challenge the decibel reading by raising questions about the calibration of the decibel meter or whether standard sound measurement procedures were followed. What I would call “the reasonable person standard,” which the Providence Municipal code already appears to include, is a much more easily enforceable standard. The Providence Municipal Code lists specific allowable noise levels for different land uses, including very quiet 65 dBA* daytime and 55 dBA nighttime sound levels for residential neighborhoods. I would note that most motorcycle exhausts exceed Providence’s statutory noise limits.

The Providence Municipal Code states:

In the absence of specific maximum noise levels, a noise level which exceeds the ambient noise level by ten (10) dBA or more, when measured at or within the real property boundary of a receiving land use or, in the case of multiple-family residential buildings, when measured anywhere in one (1) dwelling unit with respect to a noise emanating from another dwelling unit or from common space in the same building, or noise audible to a person of reasonably sensitive hearing at a distance of two hundred (200) feet from its source, shall be deemed a prima facie violation of this article.

We wish Mayor Smiley luck in his efforts to get the city’s noise ordinance enforced. Noise has both auditory and non-auditory health effects with the effect of nighttime noise on sleep being particularly deleterious to health.

We will provide an update when one becomes available.

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