Government Regulation





United States Congress

In 1972, the U.S. Congress enacted the Noise Control Act (NCA). It declared that the policy of the United States is to promote an environment for all Americans to be free from noise that jeopardizes their health or welfare. The Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) was created within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oversee the impact of noise on the general public.

In 1982, funding to ONAC was virtually eliminated, depriving citizens of federal protection against noise and its deleterious effects.

In 1997, 2003 and 2005, Representative Nina Lowey (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Quiet Communities Act. The bill would have provided refunding for ONAC.

Additional funds would be used to administer a national noise assessment program to identify trends in noise exposure and response, develop and disseminate information and public education materials on the health effects of noise. It would also establish regional technical assistance centers, which would use the resources of universities and private organizations to assist state and local noise control programs.

The bill would have also directed the EPA to conduct a study of the impact of aircraft noise on major metropolitan areas and recommend new measures the FAA could implement to mitigate these impacts.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and with safeguarding the natural environment.

The EPA does not maintain archived documents from ONAC or other published materials on noise pollution. The EPA have not conducted any studies on the causes and effects of noise pollution, including numbers of Americans affected by noise pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets noise emissions standards for motorcycles. The standard for street-legal exhaust noise emissions is 80 dB(a). All motorcycles are required to display an EPA label on the chassis and exhaust pipe. The label match-up program was designed as regulatory measure for states and municipalities to control motorcycle noise.

Federal Aviation Administration

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is an agency of the United States Department of Transportation with authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the United States. The FAA to develops and administers programs to control aircraft noise and other environmental effects of civil aviation.

The FAA has sections on their website covering environmental, airport and aircraft noise issues. The FAA has procedures to respond to the public about aircraft noise issues. The FAA's Aviation Noise Ombudsman serves as a public liaison for issues about aircraft noise questions or complaints.

When the FAA Airspace Redesign Proposal was introduced, one of the goals was to incorporate noise abatement into its design efforts. According to Frank D Hatfield, FAA spokesperson: " one of the three priorities in the design."

This priority was later dropped and today the design itself will increase noise over New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The FAA's plan, based in part on the use of inadequate models to predict noise effects, manipulation of fleet mix, and overstated assumptions of projected growth in operations, is now being challenged by the communities affected as well as their representatives. There are several lawsuits pending.

Other than failing to consider noise effects on communities, the design is misleading and incomplete. It will do little to reduce passenger delays, a major concern for passengers, which for the most part are weather related. The FAA intends to generalize the techniques developed in its Northeast Airspace Redesign Proposal to redesign the airspace of other regions.

Federal Railroad Administration

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation to promote rail transportation and safety.

The Office of Safety is responsible for enforcing the Railroad Noise Emissions Compliance Regulation that set maximum sound levels from railroad equipment and for regulating locomotive horns.

The FRA relies upon the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) noise and vibration impact assessment procedures for assessing improvements to conventional passenger rail lines and stationary rail facilities and horn noise assessment. The FTA is a separate agency that administers federal funding to state and city public transportation systems including buses, subways and commuter rail.

On October 2007, the House passed HR 2095, the Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act, which included language allowing for local quality-of-life waivers from federal horn decibel regulations.

The language allows for local operators, such as the Long Island Rail Road, to apply for a quality-of-life waiver. Current regulations do not allow for such appeals, and have an adverse affect on residents living close to the rails.

Federal Highway Administration

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation that specializes in highway transportation. They administer construction and maintenance of the National Highway System consisting of Interstate Highways, United States Routes and most State Routes.

Federal Transit Administration

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is an agency within the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) that administers federal funding to support a variety of locally planned, constructed, and operated public transportation systems. Public transportation includes buses, subways, light rail, commuter rail, streetcars, monorail, passenger ferry boats, inclined railways, and people movers.

The FTA released a manual that includes basic concepts, methods, and procedures for documenting the extent and severity of noise and vibration impacts from transit projects. The Transportation Research Board (TRB) is a division of the National Research Council, which serves as an independent adviser to the federal government and others on scientific and technical questions of national importance.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an agency of the Executive Branch of the United States Government, part of the Department of Transportation. It describes its mission as "save lives, prevent injuries, reduce vehicle-related crashes." In addition to its safety role, NHTSA is the major federal regulatory branch over the auto industry.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets and enforces safety and health standards of workers. It is an agency within the United States Department of Labor. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts workplace safety and health research.

OSHA mandates the use of back-up alarms on trucks. The electronic piercing noise emitted from current back-up alarms is a noise hazard for residents and workers. Improved back-up alarms emit a broadband sound (white sound) that prevents noise nuisance as the sound dissipates over a discrete distance.

We advocate that OSHA set new standards mandating the use of broadband sound back-up alarms.

Consumer Product Safety Commission

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is an independent federal regulatory agency by Congress in the Consumer Product Safety Act. Congress directed the Commission to "protect the public against unreasonable risks of injuries and deaths associated with consumer products."

Since 2006, following the resignation of one of its commissioners, the agency has been operating without a quorum. In 2007, President Bush had nominated Michael Baroody, a lobbyist for the National Manufacturer's Association. Following intense opposition from consumer groups, Baroody withdrew his nomination. Without three appointed commissioners, the agency has no power to involuntarily recall unsafe products. No other nomination has been made.

The agency has jurisdiction on thousands of consumer products, including toys and electronics, recreational vehicles (ATVs), landscaping equipment (leafblowers). The agency has placed no emphasis on noise hazards.

Kazuma Meerkat 50 Youth All-Terrain Vehicle

This powered ATV has no front brakes, no parking brake and can be started in gear. It is meant for children aged 6-11. The manufacturer is not willing to cooperate amid CPSC charges "children are at risk of injury or death due to multiple safety defects with this off-road vehicle." The agency has no power to involuntarily recall the ATV.

According to the Washington Post, acting chairman Nancy Nord, and the previous chairman Hal Stratton, have taken nearly thirty trips paid for by lobbyists representing manufacturers. The trips were funded by key industries the agency regulates, including toys, appliances and children's furniture.

In October, 2007, Chairman Nord requested Congress to reject legislation that would strengthen the agency. According to the New York Times, the proposed provisions would have increased maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has called for Nord to step down.

Department of Environmental Protection

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is a name used by several states in the United States of America for the agency charged with proposing and enforcing environmental law. The state-level DEPs include: Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The city-level DEPs include: New York City.

Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is a name used by every state in the United States of America for the agency charged with proposing and enforcing roadway traffic and vehicle law.

State Liquor Commission

Most states have a liquor commission charged with issuing licenses and permits to businesses, investigate violations and enforce provisions in state law. A liquor commission does not have criminal jurisdiction, but violations are actionable for administrative prosecution.

The agency can suspend or revoke liquor licenses to public establishments that are disorderly (noisy or rowdy) or where illegal activity takes place. Individuals, community groups, community councils and police can file complaints to the liquor commission.

Department of Buildings

The Department of Buildings (DOB) is a name used by several cities for the agency charged with mandating standards and codes for the construction and maintenance of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings.

Metropolitan Transit Authority

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is a name used by several cities for the agency, public benefit corporation (public authority) that manages mass transit systems. In New York City, that also includes bridges and tunnels. An MTA often have broad powers to regulate its operation and public property. An authority is usually not part of the state budgetary process that gives them a certain independence.

In 2006, researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health found that exposure to noise levels on the MTA New York City transit system have the potential to exceed recommended guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report was published in the Journal of Urban Health (New York Academy of Medicine).

Police Department

A police department safeguards the life and property of the community they serve. They act in accordance with constitutional rights to impartially enforce the laws and preserve the peace. A police department investigates criminal matters (violations, misdemeanors, felonies); they do not handle civil matters. They do however, handle quality of life complaints.

In most communities, a noise ordinance mandates the police to investigate certain, but not all, types of noise complaints. For example, a complaint about a loud air conditioner at night is not actionable, but a complaint about a loud car stereo at night is actionable by the police.

There are three common perceptions of police by the public when calling with a persistent noise complaint.

The first is that the police are responsive to handling noise complaints, but the administrative code limits their ability to act to resolve the problem. For example, an officer responds to a complaint about a car alarm repeatedly going off in the middle of the night, but does not have the authority to physically disable the alarm or have the vehicle towed away.

The second is that police are unresponsive or indifferent to handling noise complaints, even if the administrative code gives them the authority to act.

One reason why police do not always respond is because there may not be enough officers on duty to handle the amount of calls. In addition to noise complaints, officers routinely handle traffic stops for possible DUI, domestic violence, traffic accidents, theft and shootings.

The third is that police are complicit or intentionally ignoring noise complaints, because of a conflict of interest, collusion or a political directive with no basis in law. For example, officers refuse to handle complaints about a noisy nightclub because they moonlight at the establishment as hired security.

We advocate that all police departments maintain community councils (forums) where police officials and the general public can regularly meet to discuss and find solutions to problems in the neighborhood.

Case Study

In New York City, police officers and other government workers routinely violate the law by using government-issued permits to illegally park their vehicles. The permits allow government employees to park in designated areas, but not block fire hydrants, avoid paying parking meters, park on sidewalks, crosswalks, intersections and bus stops.

In addition to degrading the quality of life for residents, it also erodes the trust of government and law enforcement.

The NYPD has an unofficial "no-hit" policy on vehicles with government permits (legitimate or otherwise) in the window. When residents, business owners and civic groups confront the police, the typical response is, "we don't ticket our own."

The City of New York was unresponsive to complaints until extensive media scrutiny prompted the administration to reduce the amount of city-issued parking permits to its workers.

Noise Ordinance

The specific components of a noise ordinance must include a clear definition of the noise source(s), unacceptable noise levels (either decibel or plainly audible), time of operation (day and night hours), relative distance (from other properties), agency assigned to enforce the code, and penalties (fines and imprisonment).

Additional revisions to the noise code should be based on the number and types of noise complaints received and testimony at public hearings. It is critical to identify business lobbyists posing as individuals, also known as astroturfing.

Most noise ordinances are actionable only if it is determined to affect a "reasonable person of normal sensitivities." This qualifier almost always works against the complainant because it is easier to dismiss the complaint than to resolve it. Public officials often ignore residents who repeatedly complain about specific noise problems as being "overly sensitive". Put another way, officials assume the majority of people who do not complain prove that the minority complaints are invalid and frivolous.

The most common complaints from residents include noise from boom cars, car alarms, and motorcycles.

An effective enforcement measure for boom cars is called 'plainly audible standard' that allows an officer to determine noise levels. In Florida, noise offenders can be cited if the audio system is plainly audible at 25 feet.

In Lorain, Ohio, repeat offenders risk having their car impounded and their stereo equipment destroyed. In Gulfport, Mississippi, the police launched a public service campaign to raise awareness of the city's noise ordinance, which sets a penalty of up to $1,000 for disturbing the peace. Residents can report noise offenders through a website that the police can later follow up on.

The use of a audible car alarm system should be prohibited, including audible status indicators. There is no evidence that audible alarms work. Most alarms can be turned off or entirely removed from the vehicle at minimal cost. The sale and installation car alarms should also be banned.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets noise emissions standards for motorcycles at 80 dB(a). All motorcycles are required to display an EPA label on the chassis and exhaust pipe. The label match-up program was designed as regulatory measure for states and municipalities to control motorcycle noise.

Case Study

Noise code legislation is designed to protect residents from noise pollution, but in Lancaster City, Pennsylvania, a motorcycle rights group essentially rewrote its noise code.

The noise code revision passed in 2007 shifted the focus from illegally modified exhaust systems and decibel levels to the intent of the motorcycle rider. It requires the police to make a subjective determination whether the noisy engine revving or hard acceleration was done intentionally or not.

In cases where there are groups of riders, a police officer have no means to determine which rider is intentionally making noise.

Rick Gray, the mayor of Lancaster City, introduced the revised noise code. He is also the former chairman of the American Motorcyclist Association. Harley-Davidson Motor Company operates its largest manufacturing facility near the city.


Zoning is a system used in land-use regulation by an urban planning commission. It is intended as public policy that defines and prohibits land-use that harms existing residents or businesses in a given area.

Typically, areas are broken into sectors such as industrial, commercial, residential, farming with specific conditions for its use. Some areas are designated mixed-use that may allow light commercial and residential to share the same space. Some communities are incorporated that gives them the legal authority to change zoning rules. A zoning variance is a special waiver that allows the property owner to conduct activities that would not otherwise be allowed.

There are numerous cases where homeowners build motocross tracks or riding trails on their property that adversely affect neighbors. In California, frustrated residents successfully lobbied the Riverside Board of Supervisors for effective legislation that would limit the use of noisy off-road vehicles on private land. Supporters testified that they had become hostages in their own homes to neighbors who set up illegal dirt tracks in their backyards and rode motorcycles for hours at a time.

A common zoning issue is when industrial or commercial businesses borders a residential area without consideration for noise emissions.