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Will German measures against motorcycle noise lead to a witch hunt?

Following complaints about the ‘extremely annoying’ noise of motorcycles, the German Federal Council wants action against motorcycle noise.

On Friday 15 May 2020, the German Bundesrat (the federal council of the state governments) formally called for measures to reduce sound emissions from motorcycles.

The final decision will be made by the federal government (Bundesregierung). This means that on short term, nothing will change. Nevertheless, the decision of the Bundesrat has caused much uproar in Germany.

The Bundesrat demanded that:

  • Sound emissions should be limited to 80 dB(A) in all riding situations (‘Real Driving Sound Emissions’) and not just as is measured for the type approval.
  • The federal government should lobby for this at the European Union and the United Nations European Economic Commission (UN ECE).
  • The government should support sensibilization campaigns like ‘Silent Rider’.
  • Manipulations on the engine and exhaust system that causes more sound should be severely punished with the possibility of seizure of the motorcycle on the spot.
  • The possibility of ‘Sound Design’ should be forbidden when this leads to more sound.
  • The use of low-sound motorcycles (e.g. electric) should be promoted.
  • The possibilities for road-side checks to identify loud motorcycles should be enlarged.
  • The Bundesrat requests the introduction of regulations to impose lower speed limits and the closure of roads for motorcycles during the weekend and bank holidays justified by motorcycle noise with the possible exception of electric motorcycles.
  • The Bundesrat also requests more possibilities to prosecute the rider of a motorcycle. At present the driver/rider of a vehicle can only be prosecuted after identification (e.g. photograph of face of the driver), which is claimed to be not feasible for motorcyclists because of the helmet.
  • Also, it should be possible to fine the owner of the motorcycle, without establishing if he/she was also the rider. This would be an important breach of the German constitution.
  • Finally, the Bundesrat is calling for the mandatory introduction of a ‘Fahrtenbuch’ (driver´s logbook) if the driver could not be identified following legal violations.

The decision was made on request of the government of the state Nordrhein-Westfalen, in which the industrial area Ruhrgebiet and the Eifel are located, well known by motorcyclists. Reason that is given for the request is the ‘extremely annoying’ noise of motorcycles.

Photograph by Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa

What’s remarkable about these measures is that they entirely concern motorcycles. Even when German manufacturers of premium cars like Porsche, BMW, Audi and Mercedes fit their ‘sportive’ models with exactly the sound design devices and exhaust systems with variable valves that should be forbidden for motorcycles, the decision doesn’t mention them. One could wonder if that has anything to do with the economic interests of the German states where the car industry is located.

The decision suggests that only motorcycles cause noise. Also, both the decision itself and the substantiation suggest that motorcycles are just loud toys that are mainly used for the relaxation of antisocial persons. The measures are substantiated as a way to get ‘fair compensation’ (‘fairen Ausgleich’) for the interests of local residents.

‘This is a gross form of disproportionality and would lead to legal inequality, which is unacceptable. We will fight this on both national and European level’

FEMA member BVDM relies increasingly on public relations work, with radio and television interviews and press articles to build up appropriate public pressure. FEMA member Biker Union is preparing a political campaign to fight against the intent of the decision of the Bundesrat.

Photograph by Markgräfler Tagblatt

Comment from FEMA Secretary General Dolf Willigers: “Sound emissions are a big health problem. Evidence comes from reports of the WHO, the European Commission etc. An important source of sound emissions is traffic. From this point of view, it is logical and fair that legislators try to reduce sound from traffic. However, what happens here is that one category of road users is singled out and not only gets the blame but is also confronted with far going restrictions. This can lead to the utter impossibility of motorcycling on certain days and in certain areas, and to witch hunts against motorcyclists, while other road users are left in peace, regardless of the amount of noise they cause. This is a gross form of disproportionality and would lead to legal inequality, which is unacceptable. We will fight this on both national and European level.”

Dolf continues: “Furthermore, the decision of the Bundesrat, especially the openly support of the Silent Rider campaign leads to dissension in the German motorcycle community and the risk of badly thought out and contra productive actions. The first signs are already there. I really do hope that the German motorcyclists keep their head together and act under the leadership of our German member organizations Bundesverband der Motorradfahrer, Biker Union and Kuhle Wampe”.

Written by Dolf Willigers

Top photograph courtesy of the German police