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Why banning ‘loud’ motorcycles will not work in Tirol

FEMA’s Dolf Willigers looks at motorcycle bans in Austria, and points out some flaws in the research that led to some drastic consequences for motorcyclists.

From 10 June 2020 to 31 October 2020 some well-known roads in Austria will be closed to all motorcycles with a registered standing sound emission of more than 95 dB (A). These are not just any roads:

– B 198 Lechtalstraße from Steeg (Vorarlberg state border) to Weißenbach am Lech
– B 199 Tannheimerstraße from Weißenbach am Lech to Schattwald (national border Germany)
– L 21 Berwang-Namloser Straße from Bichlbach to Stanzach
– L 72 Hahntennjochstraße 2nd part from Pfafflar to Imst (pass height)
– L 246 Hahntennjochstraße 1st part from Imst (pass height) to Imst crossing Vogel retailer path
– L 266 Bschlaber Straße from Elmen to Pfafflar.

Figure 1 Road closures for loud motorcycles in Tirol 2020 (source: Land Tirol)

These roads are very popular with motorcyclists because of the scenic view, but perhaps even more because they are just great roads to ride. Although many of these motorcyclists come from Austria, there are also many coming from other countries, which is why FEMA is involved in this.

Background of this measure are many complaints about the sound emission caused by motorcycles from residents of the Reutte district (35,532 inhabitants) in Tirol. Because the authorities cannot just close roads for certain categories of road users, they initiated research to the amount of noise annoyance that is caused by motorcycles. The research is based on interviews with 571 persons who live in the Reutte district. Before the interviews started, the residents of the Reutte district were well prepared with articles in regional newspaper, coverage on radio and television, public announcements et cetera. the interviewees were selected to ensure representation of all age-, gender-, education classes et cetera. The interviews took place in 2018, the research report was published in 2019. The researchers also measured the sound of traffic in the district.

Table 1: Sound emissions in Außerfern (table from “Motorradlärmstudie Außerfern 2019 Kurzfassung”, text translated to English by author)

Table 1 shows a rather low measured sound emission from motorcycles, compared to other kinds of traffic throughout the year). These figures are average figures. The sound levels from traffic varied very much from less than 10 dB to 80 dB.

Figure 2 Comparison of sound emission levels on concrete asphalt according CNOSSOS-EU

Other figures also show that the measured values from sound caused by motorcycles is less than that from cars, trucks, busses or agricultural traffic. The researchers show a table with the relationship between speed and sound levels for different kind of vehicles that show the lowest sound emission level for motorcycles (Figure 1).

The researchers adjusted the levels accorded CNOSSOS-EU with +4 dB for motorcycles, because in their view propulsion noise and rolling noise were neglected in CNOSSOS-EU. The report makes clear that, despite the lower measured values, annoyance from sound emissions from motorcycles in the area is a real problem: 44% of the populations feels very bothered by motorcycle sound emissions. Only 16% feels very bothered by the sound of cars and 21.5% by the sound of LHVs and busses. In total 26% of the inhabitants feel very bothered by sound emissions from road traffic in general. Another thing that stands out is that the interviewees indicated that they were already very annoyed by the sound of motorcycles with a much lower volume than with that of cars: already with a volume of 40 dB(A) the sound of motorcycles was experienced as highly annoying by 50% of the interviewees, while with cars only 12% experiences this sound level as annoying.

Not surprisingly almost 74% considered the sound of motorcycles more annoying than the sound of cars. Especially the high-pitched sound of small sportive bikes annoyed the interviewees. They didn’t care too much about heavy motorcycles with low frequency engines. This could be related to the fact that motorcycles by a 46% are seen as less considerate compared to cars and that a majority of the respondents (52%) feels specifically at risk on the road from motorcycles. Of the respondents 52% answered that they felt ‘gefährdet’ (endangered) by motorcycles. Another fact that matters is the number of motorcycles. According to the website of ‘Land Tirol’ “On certain days the count runs up to 3,300 motorcycles on the L 246 Hahntennjochstraße. Measured against the total traffic volume,
this corresponds to a share of almost 70 percent.” This means that about every 12 seconds a motorcycle passes, many of them ridden by motorcyclists who like to exercise their skills on the winding roads.

Figure 3 Percentage of ‘Heavily Annoyed’ by number of dB (source: Motorradlärmstudie Außerfern 2019 Kurzfassung)

The researchers also report a statistical relation between the annoyance by noise and the quality of life. However, while they report a causal relationship between the this, they assume that the quality of life is negatively influenced by traffic sound without considering that also the reverse causality is possible and that somebody who already isn’t feeling well can be bothered more by traffic sounds than somebody who is happier.

A majority of the respondents made clear that they had nothing against motorcycling as such. 73% answered that they understand that motorcycling gives a feeling of freedom and 49% saw a positive effect on tourism. At the same time, 68% thought that motorcycle traffic caused high nuisance for the people and a burden on the environment. Nevertheless, 55% of the respondents felt that a ban on motorcycling would be unacceptable discrimination. Their first three solutions are more and fiercer enforcement (83.5%), higher penalties for too loud motorcycles (81.4%), awareness raising (80.6%). Only on number 4 and 5 come bans for too loud motorcycles (77.9%) and bans for motorcycles on certain roads (67.6%).

Figure 4 Suggested solutions by respondents (source: Motorradlärmstudie Außerfern 2019 Kurzfassung)

The researchers come to the following conclusions: “The present study shows that the relation between the noise indicator Lden and annoyance response to motorcycle noise is substantially different compared to road traffic in general. The exposure annoyance response curve for motorcycle noise shows a shift of more than 30 dB in annoyance reaction compared to other road traffic noise. Measures against motorcycle noise would therefore have to be oriented towards temporary avoidances of motorcycle noise as a whole. A mere limitation of the number of motorcycles is not promising. For this reason, the authors recommend temporary bans on motorcycles on all heavily travelled sections in the region, for example, on Sundays during summer months. An additional step to reduce the noise burden and the annoyance would be the ban of loud motorcycles.” The authorities of Tirol took this last recommendation and banned motorcycles with a standing sound emission higher than 95 dB(A) which according to them are 6.7% of the motorcycles in Austria. To know what kind of motorcycles are affected I borrowed this table from the German motorcycle magazine Motorrad:

Conclusions: although the average measured values of motorcycle sound emissions on average during the year are quite low, the experienced nuisance from motorcycle sound is high. The answers of the respondents suggest a relation between the high annoyance and the kind of motorcycles that seem to dominate the roads in the area and the ‘sportive’ driving style. This matches with signals that I had picked up earlier about a high number of (fatal) accidents in this area, especially on the Hahntennjochstraße. The researchers did a thorough job and I will not criticize their report, except for three things.

First: the addition of 4 dB to the CNOSSEN-EU sound emission values for motorcycles is not justified. The shape, size, and profile design of the motorcycle tyres make that the sound emission from rolling motorcycle tyres is extremely low and in no way can be compared with other vehicles.

Second: when the researchers mention a causal relationship between the annoyance by noise and the quality of life, they overlook the fact that this causality could just as well be the other way round.

The third, and most important criticism are the recommendations. The annoyance that the residents of the Reutte district experience seems to be caused more by the behaviour of a number of riders than by technical aspects.

Figure 5 Bezirk Reutte, source: Motorradlärmstudie Außerfern 2019

The sound emission of standing motorcycles isn’t the source of the nuisance but that of more sportive motorcycles with engines that have high rotations per minute (RPM) engine by design and by the way the motorcyclist rides his bike. This is something you cannot solve with a ban on motorcycles with a standing sound emission of more than 95 dB. These are often vintage motorcycles that are ridden with care by their owners who do not care about speed and who know better than run high rotations per minute. Even a ‘loud’ motorcycle ridden with care for the environment in the right gear with a limited RPM and the original exhaust system will cause much less nuisance than a motorcycle that on paper has a (standing) noise emission that is much lower, but is ridden in too low gear with high rotations per minute. Not to mention the extra sound when the owner has an aftermarket exhaust system fitted that promises a better performance and a louder and more ‘sportive’ sound. This is a matter of behaviour that can only be solved with solutions and measures that focus on behaviour instead of technical solutions.

The people of Reutte did not ask for a ban on motorcycles, they asked for law enforcement.

The people of Reutte saw it right, they also show understanding for motorcyclists, but did not get what they asked for and should have got. They are not helped with what they do get, while benevolent motorcyclists are banned or risk a fine and a large part of the motorcyclists who cause the nuisance can continue doing so. Both the people of Reutte and the well-meaning motorcyclists deserve better than this useless ban.

FEMA wrote an open letter to the Tiroler Landesregierung and some Austrian newspapers in which we explain why a ban on street legal motorcycles is not what the residents in Tirol wanted; it will not help them and it victimizes the wrong motorcyclists.

Written by Dolf Willigers

Top photograph courtesy of

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