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UNMUFFLED: Rear-end gas: Tooting too loudly can be really expensive

Published:Saturday | January 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dear Mario:

I am a gainfully employed professional. I have lusted at fast cars for as far back as I can remember. I bought my dream car three years ago. As anyone in this hobby/sport can tell, it is very expensive. So my car is always in transition as I add aftermarket performance parts when I can afford them.

I don't race on the road, but I have added free-flow exhaust to my car and it had a nice low rumble, hardly perceptible when driving at the posted speed limits. Last November, I was on the Castleton main road (coming to town) where I was caught in a spot check and motioned off the road. The papers for my car were all in order.

However, an operative who identified himself as a an examiner from the Transport Authority decided that my car was defective in that the exhaust was excessively loud. He then demanded my keys, jumped in the car and proceeded to drive at breakneck speed till he was out of sight. Of course, at this point, my car showed its true colours and started to behave, and sound like a race car.

Predictably, the examiner said that my car was excessively loud and took my plates. I was issued a $7,000 ticket and was told to buy a fitness fee to have my car re-examined after I had toned it down, plus I had to go back to Castleton for my plates. I feel that the methods used for the determination of the offence are so third century, as there was no instrument to detect noise levels. Is that legal?

Name Withheld By Request

John Doe,

You got a ticket, so, yes, it is very legal. However, you do have a point in that the Transport Authority does not use decibel metres at checkpoints to check for infringements like you described. This is because the Road Traffic Act gives sweeping powers to the examiner. The act can be found at Section 43 paragraph (2) states:

"A person having control or charge of a motor vehicle ... (shall not) at any time by cutting out the muffler or otherwise cause such motor vehicle to make unnecessary noise ... ."

Notice, there is no scientific standard; the tone of the act is suggesting that the examiner use discretion, which is laughable, to say the least. Checkpoints for speeding have radar guns; why wouldn't some kind of scientific standard obtain for loud exhaust? Talking to you has revealed that a speeding ticket was not issued at the time the infringement occurred.

Since your exhaust is street legal for your car in the continental United States, it would mean that at 3,000rpm or lower, it would be quieter than a very loud conversation. It can be demonstrably proven that at the legal limit, your car would emit noise at a quiet 85 decibels (the decibel is a logarithmic scale for sound pressure - not loudness, which is a whole 'nother kettle of fish - but it is the unit used by the US Department of Transportation.

allowable noise limit

So, it can be established that to drive your car to the point that it would exceed the allowable noise limit for developed countries around the world, the car would have to be exceeding the Jamaican speed limit by quite a bit. To stop you for such an offence there should be suspicion of that offence, and since we can say that you were driving within the speed limit (no speeding ticket), it begs the question, why were you stopped?

A senior examiner at the Transport Authority has admitted to me that there are no decibel metres or any sound measuring devices at the authority, nor are there any standards pertaining to automotive noise. Some may believe the Government is trying to fill a quota, and has targeted those who like to enjoy their cars. Sounds like something the JMMC should look into!

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Performance exhaust:

tooting too loudly

can be really expensive