Thinking Out Loud: Noise Is A Crime

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 12, 2006
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It is hard to believe, but the Legislature is about to address the issue of noise. There are many more complex issues facing our lawmakers, so we should be grateful they have taken a few moments to provide a quieter environment.

The HB 2710, H. D. 2 prohibits as disorderly conduct the operation of motorized equipment with noise levels exceeding 120 decibels, including lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other grounds maintenance equipment between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. any day of the week.

What’s interesting to note is the excessive noise falls under the laws covering disorderly conduct. What a brilliant idea. When someone is too noisy, he or she is guilty of disorderly conduct.

If you engage in fighting or threatening, or in violent, tumultuous behavior you are being disorderly. If you subject another person to offensively coarse behavior or abusive language that is likely to provoke a violent response, you are being disorderly. If you create a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that is not performed under any authorized license or permit, you are being disorderly. If you impede or obstruct, for the purpose of begging or soliciting, any person in any public place or in any place open to the public, you are being disorderly.

Furthermore, any renter, resident, or owner-occupant of the premises who knowingly or negligently consents to unreasonable noise on the premises shall be guilty of a noise violation. Disorderly conduct is a petty misdemeanor if it is the defendant’s intention to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience, or if the defendant persists in disorderly conduct after reasonable warning or request by a police officer.

This all sounds too good to be true. I can’t imagine anyone calling the police to report a noise violation. How many people know how loud 120 decibels is? The probable truth is police officers don’t carry around audio equipment to measure decibels and would have to guess at the decibel level, and consequently the petty misdemeanor for a noise violation would not stand up in court.

It’s probably safe to say that if the operators of weed whack-ers, leaf blowers and hedge trimmers have to wear protection for their ears, then it’s harmful to their hearing and to the hearing of anyone nearby, so their equipment is disorderly. Said another way, if you can hear a leaf blower with earplugs firmly in place it should be considered a noise violation.

Noise is everywhere, but loud noise is harmful to every-one’s sensitive eardrums, whether your upstairs neighbors dance all night, your downstairs neighbors hit the roof when they get excited or your next-door neighbors play handball in the middle of the night.

Until this bill becomes law and the police and courts make an example of someone found guilty of a noise violation, I guess everyone will have to just be quiet and wait.

I’m not optimistic that the law enforcement community has time to worry about loud noises. The reason I say that is even in areas where there are signs claiming that you are in a quiet zone, like around hospitals, you’ll notice that the sign doesn’t stop the operation of high tech landscaping equipment.

But I’m sure everyone, except the noisemakers, is grateful for the legislative efforts to protect quiet neighborhoods.

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