Photo: Stephanie Gresham
The issue of the “Boom Cars” has been a growing issue for at least 20 years. The vehicles are specially designed to emit large amounts of bass. These systems, even on the lowest settings, can be felt within every portion of every home and vehicles around them. To many residents they have become a source of bitter resentment. Lawmakers have attempted to address this issue in different ways.
In 1990, a bill (HB-2141) was introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives which would have made it a crime for a sound system to be heard more than 50 feet away. This bill was defeated after a compromise was reached in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, which set aside special “Jam Zones” for people to play loud music on Fridays and Saturdays.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune on August 5, 1994, “Last Sunday police and residents set up a joint stakeout on Arlington. […] 12 drivers were issued tickets, worth fines of up to $75 each, in a two-hour period for violation of the state law that says radios may be audible no more than 75 feet from the vehicle.” In November 1999, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the previous state law because justices said it failed to include a prohibition on advertising-related noise. In the year 2000, Governor George Ryan reenacted this law.
In 2005, Florida attempted its own crack down on boom cars, but as reported December 13, 2012 by The Ledger, “In Thursday’s ruling […] the state’s highest court upheld an opinion […] that nullified the 2005 state law that allowed police officers to pull over motorists if their sound systems are ‘plainly audible’ from 25 feet away. […] ‘Because it is an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression,’ Justice Jorge Labarga wrote in the majority opinion. ‘We also find that the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad because it restricts the freedom of expression in a manner more intrusive than necessary.’” As a result of that ruling, police in Florida are now powerless to do anything, even when the most excessive noise violations are emanating from a vehicle.
When asked about the issue of boom cars, Lt. Al Adams, Support Services Commander, explained on January 14, 2013, “Mr. Eldridge, the City of Alton passed an ordinance involving the loud stereo issue. On the books, if an officer stops a vehicle for a loud stereo, the officer can check to see if the offender has been contacted for the same offense in the past. The officer has two options: 1) on the first offense for loud stereo, the officer will issue a state citation for the offense. 2) If the offender has prior contacts for this offense, the officer can issue an ordinance violation, which then allows the officer to tow the vehicle and the offender has to pay a tow release fee to the department, as well as settling the cost of the tow with the tow company. Officers do issue citations with a zero tolerance policy in regards to a loud stereo. If the loud noise is not a vehicle stereo of a vehicle passing by, but is a loud party or loud music from a house, officers can issue an ordinance violation against the offender even if the officer does not hear the loud noise. For instance, you call in about a loud party. If the officer goes there and the music or noise has stopped, the officer can still issue an ordinance citation to the offender as long as they have a complainant’s information, but the complainant does not get added to the report. This is and has been an issue that the City takes seriously, and the police department enforces these ordinance violations. If you call and provide license plate information and/or property address, we will do our best to take care of this.”
According to a letter from the Illinois Pollution Control Board in August 22, 2012, “Under the Environmental Protection Act, any person can file a complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board against an alleged polluter. The Board is Illinois’ environmental court for pollution cases. The board hears and decides environmental enforcement actions, but does not prosecute them or investigate alleged pollution. All rules adopted by the board can be enforced by the board. […] Citizens can file cases before the board, but they must identify the violator, file formal complaint papers, and act as the prosecutor in their own cases. The Pollution Control Board does have some noise equipment standards and prohibitions of excess noise that apply to noise from automobiles. They are found in the state rulebook at 35 Ill. Adm. Code Part 902 ‘Sound Emission Standards and Limitations for Motor Vehicles.’ These rules were adopted in 1977.”
It might surprise one to learn that this is an issue of environmental pollution, but keep in mind the health consequences. Most people believe that hearing loss is something they have to worry about years down the road, but in reality there is immediate permanent harm. It’s just that it’s so gradual you won’t even notice it until you are deaf.
According to dangerousdecibals.org, “Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sound as well as by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time. Damage happens to the microscopic hair cells found inside the cochlea. These cells respond to mechanical sound vibrations by sending an electrical signal to the auditory nerve. […] If a sound reaches 85 dB or stronger, it can cause permanent damage to your hearing. The amount of time you listen to a sound affects how much damage it will cause. […] A bulldozer that is idling (note that this is idling, not actively bulldozing) is loud enough at 85 dB that it can cause permanent damage after only 1 work day (8 hours).”
How does this compare to the boom cars? According to wordspy.com “The human pain threshold for noise is 120 decibels (dB), but [boom cars] can hit 140 or even 150 dB. […] 150 dB would be the equivalent of standing next to a 747 with its jet engines at full roar. The ‘winner’ in this contest may be the 48,000-watt absurdity installed in a Ford Bronco. It could reach 175 decibels […] and the vehicle’s occupant would actually die (and most unpleasantly, too) if he was insane enough to crank up the system to its top volume.)”
The fact is that boom cars are not just an annoyance to those who do not wish to hear it, they are a danger to its occupants and everyone around them. It is quite literally a physically painful assault. In America, we hold accountable cigarette manufacturers just because there is a chance of causing harm. Should boom cars be any different when there is a certainty of causing harm?