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Category: Noise

What Are We Doing to Curb Loud Noise By Modified Mufflers?

Recently I’ve come across a discussion about what we’re doing to address the loud noise due to illegally modified mufflers or exhaust systems.

The noise issue has become a quality of life and health issue. We’ve been working to address the issue in several different ways. We’ll discuss that later, but I also came across some claims that the City can increase the fines for violating these laws, and police can give citations by looking at the size or shape of the modified exhaust system. Based on my communication with our police officers and legal experts, both claims are incorrect.

First, let’s talk about the laws. The laws governing the modified mufflers are State laws.  Article 22-609 of the State Laws prohibits the modification of exhaust systems.

§ 22-609. Modification of exhaust system

(a) Modification that increases sound is prohibited. — A person may not modify the exhaust system or any other noise abatement device of a motor vehicle driven or to be driven on any highway in this State in such a way that the noise emitted by the vehicle exceeds that emitted by the vehicle as originally manufactured.

(b) Operation of improperly modified vehicle prohibited. — A person may not drive on any highway in this State a motor vehicle with an exhaust system or noise abatement device modified in a way prohibited by subsection (a) of this section.

Thus to give a citation, a police officer must hear that the vehicle is making a noise exceeding the noise from the vehicle as originally manufactured. The car can be moving or idling, but its engine must run for the police officer to hear the noise. A police officer cannot cite a vehicle by looking at the size or shape of its exhaust system.

The same goes for the fines. The City cannot increase the penalties for violating these laws. The State law sets the fines. A State bill (HB1333) was introduced in the previous legislative session to increase the penalties. Please read more about that below.

A sign stating the prohibition of loud modified systems on Rhode Island Avenue, north of MD 193.

A sign stating the State law $22-609 prohibition of loud modified systems on Rhode Island Avenue, north of MD 193.

The State Delegates have been working to change the state laws with new bills for more effective and stricter enforcement. The City Council has also supported these bills. I, personally, have testified in support of some of these bills’ hearings.

  • HB 208: Street Racing and Exhibition Driving
  • SB 229 Noise Abatement Moni- Systems – Authorization, Use, and Penalties
  • HB 304 Noise Limits and Modification of Exhaust Systems and Noise Abatement Devices
  • HB 1333: The bill will essentially increase the fines for non-compliance on the repair order from $70.00 to $200.00. The subsequent fines for the same non-compliance would go up to $300 and then $400.

Unfortunately, these bills did not go out of the House committee. We hope to see it coming back in the future legislative session.

In addition to working with the State legislature on these bills, The City has also added several signs reminding drivers against the exhaust system modification.

Our police officers have been giving many citations to these vehicles daily. They are reported in the City’s weekly emails.

 

GAO Concludes Helicopter Noise Study

Recently, the GAO (The Government’s Accountability Office) has concluded the study about the helicopter noise in the Washington D.C. Metro area.

According to the report, the GAO recommends that the Administrator of the FAA should direct the Office of Environment and Energy to develop a mechanism to exchange helicopter noise information with operators in the D.C. area.

Many of our College Park residents, especially from north College Park, live with the impacts of regular helicopter noise that interrupts sleep patterns, causes their homes to shake, and negatively impacts their quality of life. To address this issue, residents can try various sleep aids like edibles, white noise machines, or noise-canceling headphones to mitigate the impact and improve their sleep quality. Disturbances from helicopter noise have been a longstanding problem and many have noted recent increases in the frequency and severity of helicopter noise in their neighborhoods.

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Anthony Brown (D-MD), and David Trone (D-MD) requested the study in January, 2019.

In July 2017, I requested that a letter be sent to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that College Park be included in the GAO study of the effect of helicopter noise in the Washington Metropolitan region.

The report recognizes that helicopter noise can potentially expose members of the public to a variety of negative effects, ranging from annoyance to more serious medical issues. FAA is responsible for managing navigable U.S. airspace and regulating noise from civil helicopter operations. Residents of the D.C. area have raised concerns about the number of helicopter flights and the resulting noise.

GAO was asked to review issues related to helicopter flights and noise within the D.C. area. Among its objectives, this report examines: (1) what is known about helicopter flights and noise from flights in the D.C. area, and (2) the extent to which FAA and helicopter operators have taken action to address helicopter noise in the D.C. area. GAO reviewed statutes, regulations, policies, and documents on helicopter noise. GAO analyzed (1) available data on helicopter operations and noise in the D.C. area for 2017 through 2019, and (2) FAA’s approach to responding to helicopter complaints. GAO also interviewed FAA officials; representatives from 18 D.C. area helicopter operators, selected based on operator type and the number of flights; and 10 local communities, selected based on factors including geography and stakeholder recommendations.

You can find the complete report here. Also, more here on the Washington Post.

City’s Noise Code May Get Some Changes

At tomorrow’s Council meeting, the Council will consider introducing Ordinance 21-O-01, amending Chapter 141, Article I, §141-9 to clarify that prior notice of a violation is not required before a municipal infraction is issued in emergency situations, and situations involving conditions and/or activities that are prohibited due to a declared state of emergency.

Chapter 141, “Nuisances”, Article 1, was adopted by the Mayor and Council to, in part, prohibit whatever is dangerous to life or health; whatever renders air, food, water or drink unwholesome or unfit for the use of people; and whatever odors or exhalations are offensive or dangerous to the public health.

This prohibition is enforced through the municipal infraction process, which also allows the City to request abatement of the violation. Notice prior to issuance of a municipal infraction is required by §141-9 and is used to encourage compliance with the City Code.

However, this provision was not intended to apply in emergency situations that require immediate action. This amendment clarifies that prior notice of a violation is not required before a municipal infraction is issued in emergency situations, and situations involving conditions and/or activities that are prohibited due to a declared state of emergency.

In those cases, a prior notice requirement would impede the immediate resolution of a significant public health danger.

The virtual Public Hearing is scheduled for January 26, 2021, at 7:30 p.m.

Council to Ask GAO to Include College Park in its Helicopter Noise Study

At the last worksession, I requested that a letter be sent to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that College Park be included in the GAO study of the effect of helicopter noise in the Washington Metropolitan region.

Recently, the GAO announced that they will conduct a study of the impact of helicopter noise on communities in the National Capital Region.

Many of our residents, especially from north College Park, live with the impacts of regular helicopter noise that interrupts sleep patterns, causes their homes to shake and negatively impacts their quality of life. Disturbances from helicopter noise have been a longstanding problem and many have noted recent increases in the frequency and severity of helicopter noise in their neighborhoods.

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Anthony Brown (D-MD), and David Trone (D-MD) requested the study in January this year.

Lawmakers Introduce the Quiet Communities Act of 2019

Conceptual image about human earing

Several members of Congress have introduced H.R. 3001, the Quiet Communities Act of 2019, which would reestablish the federal noise pollution control office within the EPA. If you are concerned about airport noise, helicopters, road noise, trains, or any other type of loud and excessive noise, please contact your representatives and senators and voice your support for this effort.

The Noise Free America website has more information on the bill, as well as articles on noise-related issues such as its impact on health.

The bill was introduced on May 23, 2019 by Representative Grace Meng (D., New York) and has 34 co-sponsors.

The bill has been sent to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (which is chaired by Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey) as well as the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (which is chaired by Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon).

Within the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, which is chaired by Representative Daniel Lipinski, a Democrat from Illinois.

Please ask your member of the US House of Representative to support H.R. 3001. Contact information for your House member is here:

Please also ask your members of the US Senate to introduce and support the “Quiet Communities Act of 2019.” Contact information for your Senators is here.

Council Mulls Changing City’s Noise Ordinance

Back in September, the Council efforts being made in other jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County and Arlington County, to control noise from large social gatherings and from groups on public streets and sidewalks, especially in the following areas (a) Adopt an amendment allowing exemptions to City Code for special public events and establishing criteria for an exemption.

Some events, including those which the City promotes, by their nature, violate the noise ordinance. Recent revisions to the County noise regulations accommodate special events. Staff recommends that
(a) Chapter 138 of the City Code be amended to allow for certain special events.
(b) Adopt an amendment to more clearly define noise and time limits for construction and commercial property maintenance, including private trash service and parking lot sweepers. Consider changes to daytime (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) noise limits for private property maintenance such as lawn mowing and leaf blowing. Discuss and consider different weekend noise limits such as 9-5 for lawn maintenance
(c) Consider adopting an amendment to prohibit noise above the night time (8 p.m. to 7 a.m.) limits caused by loud talking, shouting, or wailing on public property. Currently, this behavior can be addressed by code enforcement through the noise code if it occurs on private property, by citations and municipal infractions to the property owner and tenants of rental properties. To enforce such a regulation on public property such as streets or sidewalks would require police to enforce.

Staff is researching the future possibility of City contract police officers being authorized to enforce the City noise code. Contract officers can currently enforce the County noise code and can abate loud, noisy behavior. They cannot at this time issue City municipal infractions.

Council to Discuss Improving Noise Board Hearing Procedure

During recent meetings of the Noise Control Board (NCB), Board members discussed several issues which they believe may impact the effectiveness and efficiency of Board hearings. They wish to discuss these with the City Council.

The NCB conducts administrative hearings as authorized by the City Code, Chapter 138, Noise. The Chairman of the NCB, Alan Stillwell, met with the Council Tuesday, September 22, 2015 during the Council’s review of Boards and Committees. Mr. Stillwell reviewed the function of the NCB and the hearing protocol they follow.

Mr. Stillwell advised the Council that the NCB would be following up with some recommendations for Council consideration. At subsequent NCB meetings, the following issues were discussed and detennined that they would be presented to the Council for consideration.

1. Discus the possibility and feasibility of raising fines.
Currently the state imposed limit to municipal Infraction fines is $1,000. The City noise code violation fine structure is $500 for first offense, and $1 ,000 for repeat violations within any 6 month period. The NCB is authorized to reduce the fine for a first offense, using the criteria the Council has established in Chapter 138. A person found to responsible for a violation by the NCB may appeal the municipal infraction to the District Court. Judges often reduce municipal infraction fines.

2. Request that the City Attorney determine whether social media advertising by a third party may be used as a valid defense; and, whether criminal, or other, charges may be brought for use of social media to generate a large uncontrolled party. Similar to charges of “inciting a riot”, could a charge of “tweeting a mob” be brought?
A trend has been noted by the NCB, of persons accused of a noise code violation resulting from a large party claiming that their party was posted on social media by an unauthorized person or attendee at their party. The NCB has continually admonished the accused that they are still responsible and should be the first one to call police for assistance in quieting the party and dispersing uninvited guests.

3. Should the NCB rules and procedures recess an administrative hearing, and dismiss the case immediately, when there are not two credible witnesses to testify?
The NCB has experienced scheduled hearings where only one actual witness to the event under consideration is in attendance. Other witnesses to other events at the same location may come to testify, but the NCB must focus on the specific incident noted in the complaint, not any other undocumented events. In these situations the NCB has continued to hear testimony, but transitions to a mediation process rather than a hearing to determine responsibility for a violation.

4. Chapter 138-6, E, should be revised and clarified, to include criteria for referral of a property owner to the County Nuisance Abatement Board.
The process described in this section has not been implemented in the past 20 years and the BOHH was replaced by the APC for these kinds of hearings. The process, described in the Code, would require the combination of three actual violations verified and determined by the NCB or District Court trial, not merely complaints received. It is unlikely to achieve three confirmed violations within a twelve month period due to common use of the appeals process. Further, revocation of the City Residential Occupancy Pennit may not achieve the immediate results expected by the complainants. It would not, for example, result in immediate eviction of tenants. The NCB discussed the possibility of using the County Nuisance Control Board process and establishing more achievable criteria, such as five violations in five consecutive years for a specific property.

5. Initiate a public awareness campaign to promote the responsibility of party sponsors to call police when their party is crashed by uninvited guests, and to avoid uninvited guests as the result of social media.
Efforts to promote this information will include use of City sponsored public information, including annual “Knock and Talk” visits to likely party houses, property owner assistance, and any other means of distribution available. A post spring break 2016 campaign is anticipated.

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