Tom Clyde: Noise has become the new secondhand smoke
The leadership of the great state of Utah has decided that doubling the population in the next 30 years or so is a great idea. Packing more and more people in, all trying to fit in the same space and use the same water supply, seems like a mistake to me. But as it happens all around us, it’s clear that it will take a few adjustments.
The Labor Day weekend out at my house was busier than usual in the neighborhood. There were big family gatherings at nearby houses, complete with dogs that barked at mine — and mine returned the favor — screaming kids, ATVs, chain saws, lawn mowers and about every other imaginable thing that could make noise. Lots of noise. Out on the highway, swarms of future organ donors were roaring by on motorcycles. There are the Harley-Davidsons, which are the choice of both retired dentists and the tattooed crowd, and then there are the bullet bikes. Neither group has much do to with the other, and strikingly different fashion sense, but both make very loud and distinctive noise.
One motorcycle by itself is enough to interrupt normal conversation out in the yard. A swarm of them is a real nuisance. I can hear them for over a mile in each direction. Equally bad are the diesel pickups. I’ll hear something roaring up the highway and assume, based on the noise, that it’s a semi dragging some gigantic piece of construction machinery up the canyon. Most of the time, it turns out to be a guy in a half-ton Dodge pulling a 15-foot house trailer. They come with a tailpipe about as big around as a dinner plate, but apparently spending $65,000 on a truck doesn’t include a muffler.
It’s a real attention grabber, for sure, but the impression it leaves is probably not exactly what the driver was hoping for. It’s the mating call of the American ignoramus. It doesn’t have to be that loud. I doubt there are women out there who say, “Jake would be a great catch, if only his truck made more noise.”
There was a time when we tolerated secondhand smoke. Flying was more comfortable then in terms of seat size. But we paid for it with our lungs, and exited the plane as smoke-cured as ham. People finally had enough. After the obvious failure of “smoking sections,” smoking on airplanes was prohibited. Then in offices, restaurants, bars and just about everywhere else. It took a long time to get there, but society finally decided that we did not have to tolerate somebody stinking the whole place up.
Noise has become the new secondhand smoke. It’s just plain rude. It’s also harmful. In the U.S., 70 decibels is sort of considered the tolerable background noise level. In Europe, they have set the standard at 40 decibels. There really isn’t a standard that is enforced, so on Sunday afternoons, I hear the roar of the equivalent of about 200 chainsaws blasting by the house at 125 decibels each. The worst are the dirt bikes that have obliterated the Little South Fork/Bench Creek bike trail. The scream of those things is audible from miles away, echoing up and down the canyon. It’s really the equivalent of walking into my house, uninvited, and lighting up a big cigar.
We regulate the emissions that come out of the tailpipe because air pollution is bad for people. Why can’t we regulate the noise coming out of the same tailpipe for the same reason? In places like Park City (though less in the real world) people have conniptions over a car idling. Yet we tolerate the racket it makes when shifted into gear.
There are a lot of things that can reduce traffic noise. Mufflers aren’t that complicated. Concrete pavement like U.S. 40 is inherently noisier than asphalt. The weird stuff they put on S.R. 248 a couple of years ago was extremely loud. It’s finally packed in and isn’t so bad now. Tires can make a lot of noise. There has to be a way to design an off-road tire that doesn’t make a lot of noise on the pavement. Maybe a combination of different pavement and some reasonable standards on tire and exhaust noise would have made the ugly noise wall at Jeremy Ranch unnecessary.
If life with twice as many of us is going to be tolerable, we need to make some changes. We would never go back to the “smoke anywhere” days. Nobody would tolerate sitting down for an expensive meal in a nice restaurant and having somebody at the next table smoking up a storm. A car that burns oil gets pulled off the road in the counties where there is an emissions testing program. It seems reasonable to regulate vehicle noise at the same time.
The noise from your motorcycle isn’t cool; it’s rude.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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I must admit that, although I have felt much love wherever I hung my hat during this life, I never felt more at home in a new cultural environment than on my first trip down that coastline.