Legislators will consider a bill today banning the sale of loud speakers and amplified subwoofers in cars.
"It’s really those real large big booming subwoofers that … literally cause your walls and windows to shake. We’ve all experienced that," said Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore Village), author of House Bill 1178, scheduled to be heard this morning in the House Transportation Committee. "That’s where your own personal freedom to enjoy your music conflicts or oppresses a person’s right to enjoy the quietness of their own home."
The bill prohibits the installation, ownership or use of any car with aftermarket speakers over 6.5 inches in height or depth, any five-speaker aftermarket system or any speaker of more than 100 watts. The bill mandates a fine of up to $250 per violation.
Although it bans the use of any product that wasn’t installed by the vehicle manufacturer, Oshiro said the bill’s intent is not to ban iPods or other electronic devices.
"We see this as an attack directly at small businesses," said Carmina Ahmed, co-owner of Car Stereo Express in Aiea, who has organized an online campaign to stop the bill. "It’s not just us. It’s a ripple effect. Let’s punish the people who do it. Not everybody who buys the subwoofer is going to boom it."
Ahmed said there is already a city ordinance that makes it unlawful to play a vehicle’s stereo system when it is audible from 30 feet away. The Honolulu ordinance has fines of between $100 and $1,000.
Honolulu police handed out 912 citations under the ordinance last year, up from 607 in 2009 and 649 in 2008, according to court records.
» What: Hearing on bill to ban loud car speakers
"The enforcement has been so sporadic. It’s almost as if there is no enforcement," Oshiro said.
Mary Jane Lee, a senior citizen and Wahiawa Neighborhood Board member, said residents have complained for years about the thunderous bass sound that reverberates when the large sound systems are at capacity, not about the music itself.
"When you’re driving, you cannot even hear yourself because it is so noisy," she said. "Our concern is more that we’re going to have a lot of deaf people."
William "Billy" Martin, director of the Hearing Research Center at the Oregon Health & Science University, said loud car audio systems can cause hearing loss if the volume exceeds a certain level for a long enough period of time.
Damage to the ear begins with exposure to sound levels about 85 to 90 decibels for a duration of eight hours or longer, he said.
"How do you know if your car stereo is dangerous? If you have to raise your voice for other people in the car to hear you, then you’re in a problem area. That’s about 85 to 90 decibels," Martin said.
At 130 decibels, which is the estimated maximum volume for an average high-end car stereo system, the damage to the ear is virtually instant, Martin added.
"They have competitions in Portland where some contestants have systems that put out more than 150 decibels," he said. "The technical capacity to generate tremendous sound pressure is there if you want to spend $6,000 to $8,000 on a sound system."
Martin said many teenagers and young adults do not understand the impact that prolonged exposure to loud sounds has.
"By time they’re 30 years old, they’ll have ears of a 60-year-old. The irony is that they love music, but eventually everything will sound like an AM radio to them. It will have that dull sound like they’re underwater," Martin said.
Jackson Lee, a salesman and installer at Security and Sound Systems, said while some people overdo it, others buy the aftermarket products to enhance the quality of their sound system.
The bill impedes on the right to choose "what you want to do with your hard-earned dollars," added David Escalera, a longtime purchaser of aftermarket sound systems.
"It’s taking away your consumer rights totally," he said. "That would be like the government saying … you can’t drive cars anymore, you have to now ride a skateboard."
But Oshiro sees the legislation as a way to curb outbursts of noise that have become a nuisance to residents.
"You certainly are entitled to enjoy whatever music at whatever volume you want in your vehicle, but when it starts to impose upon other cars or other drivers or others in the neighborhood, that’s when you’ve gone too far," he said.