By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
In the words of Nicki Minaj:
“This one is for the boys with the booming system,
Top down, AC with the cooler system.”
As the song “Super Bass” aptly highlights, sometimes, there’s no feeling quite like cruising around in your car rocking that bass-heavy speaker system and bouncing to tunes while your seats shake. (Convertibles and cars with air conditioning never go astray either.)
And hey, who doesn’t love a bit of carpool karaoke, right?
Well, it so turns out that if you’re going to have your doof-doof beats blasting from your car stereo, you may end up paying for more than just your hearing aids in your elderly years.
Yes, be warned: Police officers – and a whole bunch of people – don’t like noise pollution, so booming loud music from your car can burn a big hole in your pocket.
Motor Vehicle Noise in NSW
Like it or not, motor vehicle noise is a concern for many people in NSW.
Other than loud noise from your sound system, motor vehicle noise includes blares from the vehicle’s exhaust systems, engines, horns, and brakes.
These are all classifications of road traffic noise, and when deemed offensive, are considered forms of noise pollution.
Noise Pollution Prevention in NSW: The Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017
In NSW, the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017 prevents high noise levels from vehicles due to lack of maintenance, deliberate tampering or inappropriate use.
This noise control regulation is imposed by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), police officers, and in some instances, local council officers. The role of the EPA is to reduce people’s exposure to noise pollution from motor vehicles.
One in Five Australians Affected: The Problem of Road Traffic Noise in NSW
The NSW Department of Environment and Conservation advises that road traffic noise is, in fact, the most pervasive and widespread noise in towns and cities, and that approximately one in five Australians end up affected by this noise pollution.
Other than simply being annoying, the short-term effects of loud traffic noise can include:
- Interference with speech
- Disturbed sleep
- Interrupted work.
Prolonged exposure to such excessive traffic noise can result in:
- Other health effects
Managing vehicle noise is the responsibility of the vehicle operators and owners. They must ensure that noise from their vehicles is kept within reasonable levels.
The Issue with Noisy Vehicle Sound Systems
Sound systems are often fitted to vehicles and these have the capacity to produce very high levels of noise that are considered offensive.
Excessively loud stereos are capable of generating noise above the human pain threshold of 120 decibels. Some can reach as high as 150 decibels, which is the equivalent of standing on an aircraft carrier deck with a plane taking off.
The primary concern is low frequency noise that is generated when music is being played. Low frequency noise (or booming noise) can penetrate buildings and other vehicles more easily than high frequency or mid-frequency noise.
Excessive sound caused by low frequency noise levels is problematic on many levels.
Significantly, it can cause serious traffic hazards to drivers and other road users given that loud stereos have the ability to impair drivers’ response times and cause a driver to be distracted. It could even lead to driving negligently carrying heavy penalties and consequences.
Equally, many drivers and their passengers are put at risk of suffering severe hearing damage, including burst eardrums.
In general, loud noise levels have the tendency to also annoy surrounding residents, vehicle drivers and pedestrians. In fact, this has regularly been the source of offensive noise complaints to councils and the EPA’s Pollution Line.
What is Considered “Offensive Noise” Anyway?
According to the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation, the concept of offensive noise is generally understood as being noise:
- a) That, by reason of its level, nature, character or quality, or the time at which it is made, or any other circumstances:
(i) is harmful to (or is likely to be harmful to) a person who is outside the premises from which it is emitted, or
(ii) interferes unreasonably with (or is likely to interfere unreasonably with) the comfort or repose of a person who is outside the premises from which it is emitted, or
(b) That is of a level, nature, character or quality prescribed by the regulations or that is made at a time, or in other circumstances, prescribed by the regulations.
The Law on Using a Motor Vehicle Sound System that Emits Offensive Noise in NSW
In NSW, the offence of using a motor vehicle sound system that emits offensive noise is contained in Regulation 31, 32 and 33 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017.
Cause Sound System of Car to Emit Offensive Noise or Drive/Use Car on Road with Sound System Emitting Offensive Noise
If you cause the sound system of a motor vehicle to emit offensive noise in NSW, you will face a penalty of up to $5,500 for an individual or $11,000 if you are a corporation under Regulation 31 Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017 (NSW). To be guilty of this offence, there is no requirement that you be on a road or road related area.
Regulation 32 says that both the driver and owner of the vehicle will be guilty of this offence if any person causes the sound system to be used in such a way that it emits offensive noise. However, if the penalty (or penalty notice) gets issued to or recovered from any person regarding the offence (whether or not it is the actual offender, driver or owner) then there will be no further penalty imposed on or recovered from anyone else.
If you either drive or use a motor vehicle on a road (or road related area) with the sound system emitting offensive noise, then you will be liable to a maximum penalty of up to $5,500 under Regulation 33(1) Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017 (NSW).
The above penalty only applies if you face a Local Court Magistrate. However, a police office may issue you with an on-the-spot fine (infringement/penalty notice) of $200 which carries 2 demerit points if you pay it (in which case you will not be required to attend court) and it puts an end the matter.
However, as an alternative, if you wish to try to avoid incurring the demerit points, you may choose to not pay this penalty notice fine by ‘court-electing’. This will require you to attend court and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
If you plead not guilty and are found not guilty by the court, the charge will be dismissed, and you will incur no demerit points or fine.
If you plead guilty, you will not incur demerit point nor fine if the Magistrate imposes a Conditional Release Order without conviction or section 10 dismissal as a penalty. This will also put an end to the matter. However, because you appear in court for this, although generally unlikely, the Magistrate does have the choice or discretion to impose the maximum penalty outlined earlier of $5,500 fine which will also trigger the demerit points.
Anyone charged with this will be not guilty if:
- The motor vehicle was stolen or illegally taken (or used) at the time of the offence; or
- If you are charged as an owner of the motor vehicle, you were not inside the vehicle at the time, and if you give notice (within 21-days from receiving the penalty notice) in the approved form nominating who was in charge of the vehicle at the time, or you didn’t and couldn’t have known with reasonable diligence the name and address of the person who was in charge of the vehicle at the time.
Unnecessary Noise from Starting or Driving a Motor Vehicle
Further to this, there is a maximum penalty of up to $2,200 fine to anyone who starts or drives a motor vehicle in a way that makes unnecessary noise or smoke under Rule 291 Road Rules 2014 (NSW).
A police officer may issue you with a penalty notice of $337 instead of requiring you to attend court for committing this offence.
If you receive the on-the-spot fine, you will also incur 3 demerit points if you pay the fine.
Alternatively, if you wish to avoid the demerit points, you may court-elect the penalty notice (an option on the back of the form) which requires you to appear in court when you may either enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
In the event you are found not guilty or receive a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order without conviction if you plead guilty to it, you will not incur any demerit points.
As Sydney’s leading traffic defence lawyers, we have 8 conveniently located offices across NSW who provide fixed fees and a free first consultation.
If you have a question, call our 24/7 hotline on (02) 8606 2218.