Recreational vehicles create noise problems in Moab

Photo credit: LuceroPhotos licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the Moab Sun News discusses the problem of off-road vehicle noise there. As a city dweller who prefers to hike rather than ride in the wilderness, I had to look up the difference between a UTV, ATV, and OHV. From one link, I learned that “an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) is also known as “quad” or “four wheeler” and is meant for single-riders. A utility task vehicle (UTV) tends to be beefier and allows for “side-by-side” riding, which is why some simply call it a “side by side” or “SXS” for short.” From another, I learned that an OHV is an off-highway vehicle built by an automobile manufacturer, e.g., 4×4 vehicles that you might see advertised on television, fording streams or climbing muddy roads. Fortunately, I have never encountered any of these hiking in Europe or the Canadian Rockies, except seeing some UTVs on farms that we hiked near. These were clearly used for farm work, not for recreational riding on trails.

Moab is located in eastern Utah, and is the town nearest to Arches and Canyonland National Parks. It’s a small town, with only 5,000 inhabitants. Its police department has only 15 sworn officers. Recreational tourism is a major source of revenue for the town and those who live there. Enforcement of noise ordinances is a problem.

The solution wasn’t found at the recent City Council meeting, but our noise colleague Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, offered some helpful suggestions.

As the Sun News reported,

Blomberg outlined several tools he’s seen used in other municipalities that he thought could help Moab, many of which have come up in previous community discussions. Curfews, equipment requirements like an EPA-stamped muffler and drive-by monitoring for a specific decibel threshold were all invoked. Blomberg mentioned the “20-inch test,” which measures the noise emitted by a stationary vehicle 20 inches from its tailpipe. [See “Just how loud are they,” Nov. 23, 2020 edition. -ed.]

Blomberg acknowledged that each of these tools has advantages and disadvantages and recommended that the city adopt them all, so that enforcement officers can select the most appropriate for each circumstance.

The way I see it, the right of vehicle operators to make noise stops at the listeners’ eardrums, especially in the evening, night, and early morning hours.

I hope the Moab City Council finds a solution to its noise problem soon.

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