For those of you that follow the F1, you’ll know that we had a bit of controversy at the last race, when it was deemed that Vettel deliberately went a little wide in a bid to stop Hamilton from passing him after a minor trackside excursion. The stewards were following the regulations to the letter.

Depending on who you want to see win, this could be great news, or a woeful display of bias against Vettel, and it’s that immediate feeling of schadenfreude, followed by horror, that I’m feeling right now.

It’s been announced that the Department for Transport (DfT) are to crack down on noise polluting vehicles, through the use of prototype ‘noise cameras’ that have been specifically developed for the task. This is because, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, noise pollution has been linked to a number of “significant health implications” such as stress, high blood pressure and heart attacks.

74dB is your limit

To be clear, the limit for noise regulation isn’t changing, but until this point, enforcing that rule has been more about reactive policing rather than proactive enforcement, and for the main part, it’s been subjective rather than black & white, the new noise cameras will change that.

To me, it seems very much like the loss of traffic police in favour of speed cameras; a minor infringement would more than likely result in a ticking off from a traffic officer, but with a camera, there’s no grey area, no thought as to the driver’s skill, the circumstances or timing – if you’re breaking the set limit, that’s as dangerous at 3AM as it is at 3PM.

And that’s before we even get to the whole ‘Big Brother’ issue, and where that will lead us.

Petrolhead heaven

I can fully appreciate that the majority of the public (and motorists) will rejoice at the thought of putting an end to the overly noisy, angry sounding four-cylindered, body-kitted cars that the ‘youths’ drive, but what of a classic V8 on song, or the melodious exhaust note of a V12 under power? The pop and the crackle on overrun … the sounds that celebrate fossil-fuel engineering at its finest?

The stewards (in this case, the police), will have to enforce the regulations to the letter, there’s no choosing the favoured sides, no ‘just this once’ options, and no free passes. Is this great news, or a woeful display of bias against the motorist?

Whilst I’m all very much for teaching younger motorists that noise doesn’t necessarily equate to speed, I do feel that targeting noisy cars through the use of a machine, set to an arbitrary limit is a mistake, and the next question would be “what comes next?”. How homogenised will motoring become? Will there come a time where we’re all driving around in a government issued ‘Transport (STD) – Car’?

No convictions

The noise cameras will be installed ‘at several’ locations over the following seven months, the DfT are at pains to state that there will be no convictions issued under the trial, but that “they could be used to help enforce the law” in the future (so that’s a given then), which would also mean a national rollout.

The cameras will use a combination of noise measurement, speed & class detection and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) to determine whether the vehicle is breaking the law; there are minor changes for vehicle age that can have an effect, and of course larger vehicles by their very nature could potentially be noisier, the system needs to be able to identify each vehicle accurately.

Given that the DfT have specifically mentioned rural communities, and that identifying a single vehicle at speed on a naturally noisy motorway would be difficult, it’s assumed that the placement of the cameras would be at reasonably low-volume traffic sites initially, as to how well they would work in high-volume sites remains to be seen.

It’s thought that standard exhaust systems, even on performance cars, should manage just fine, unless of course you’re deliberately revving your engine as you drive past, which does open up another point; speed awareness courses tell us that speeding (full stop) is bad, that to counter the natural progression of a car speeding up on a neutral throttle, we should use a lower gear to hold it back slightly, which would mean that engine revs are higher, leading to more noise for the speed – just how accurate are these cameras?

As an automotive performance engineer, I’m not averse to the sound of cars and motorcycles ‘making progress’, providing that the act of driving fast in itself isn’t a danger, but I do understand why some people don’t like that noise, and I’m happy that measures are being taken to counter that, I just believe that they’re the wrong measures.

What are your thoughts on noise pollution? Should the government take this step? Perhaps you feel that there’s other issues that the government should be spending money on? Let us know.

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