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Do lower speeds lead to less noise?

Emotions seem to play a bigger role than science in the discussions surrounding noise emissions from cars and motorcycles, as Thomas Makropoulos from the Danish motorcyclists’ organisation DMC explains.

Due to the noise emissions accompanying cars and motorcycles, we motorcyclists are suffering from discrimination all over Europe. In Germany, motorcyclists are prohibited access to several roads, and some roads have lower speed limits for motorcycles only. In Tyrol, Austria, motorcycles with a standstill noise above 95 dBA, despite being legal, are not allowed to drive on a number of major roads. In parts of Spain’s Natural Park of the High Pyrenees, motorcycles with internal combustion engines are banned for noise protection reasons.

Not all roads have restrictions for motorcycles only. Some European roads have reduced speed limits affecting all vehicles, for the single purpose of noise reduction. One such road is the highway ‘Holbækmotorvejen’, passing through the outskirts of the Danish capital Copenhagen. Nearby residents complained about noise from the highway. Politicians listened to their complaints, and reduced the speed limit from 110 km/h to 80 km/h.

As reported by Danish news media TV2 Kosmopol, it has come as a surprise to residents, that the change in speed has caused almost no change in perceived noise level, around the resident’s homes. Measurements with a sound level meter support resident’s perception, as the noise has only been reduced by between 0,5 and 1,8 dBA. And it’s barely audible, says chief consultant at the Danish Road Directorate, Jakob Fryd: “That’s what we would call ‘marginal’. It means relatively much to reduce speed, but relatively big changes are needed, before anything happens in relation to the level experienced.”

Despite the minimal changes the mayor of Hvidovre Municipality is adamant that a speed change is the fastest solution to the problem. And the cheapest, he adds in an interview with TV2 Kosmopol, “Because if you lower the speed to 80, it will cause a change in noise if you make sure that people do not drive faster than 80”. When the reporter asked: ”But isn’t the problem really that people don’t obey the speed rules?”, the mayor answered: “Yeah. But we would still like to lower the speed to 80”. Twelve mayors of municipalities surrounding the capital have joined forces and have written a letter to a number of ministers with the desire to lower the speed on the motorways around Copenhagen from 110 kilometres per hour to 80 kilometres per hour. At the same time, the mayors want the surrounding roads to have a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour instead of 80 kilometres per hour.

DMC’s Thomas Makropoulos.

We at DMC have no crystal ball to predict the future, so we cannot say if the speed limit will be lowered even further. Time will tell. Despite the microscopic change in noise level measured and experienced, no politician has yet taken steps to revert the speed limit to the old value. That’s why we motorcyclists should do everything we can, to prevent implementation of bans and speed reductions, in the first place. Well, unless there is a proven and sensible reason to implement the ban, which is seldom the case. Asked about the effects of such bans after implementation, residents often say something like: ‘It felt good when politicians finally listened to our noise complaints, so I feel like things are better now’.

So what can we do, to prevent further noise related bans? We can all help. And we all have to, as focus on traffic noise has never been more pronounced. First of all, think about what noise your driving style produces. Secondly, we should all speak up, when we hear family, neighbours or friends mention a wish for bans, or reduction of speed limits. Many people feel like bans and speed reductions are the solution to traffic noise, without knowing what the actual outcome will be. If we do not all speak up, and make people aware, some politicians might smell votes, and thus disregard science and experience from other bans, and continue to implement new bans.

Written by Thomas Makropoulos (DMC)

Top photograph courtesy of Boosted Magazine

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