Noise of roaring motorcycles tyrannizes Maui neighborhoods
I’m walking down the street in Wailuku, Maui, and I hear the familiar rumble of a large “hog” (Harley-Davidson motorcycle) approaching from the rear.
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I’m walking down the street in Wailuku, Maui, and I hear the familiar rumble of a large “hog” (Harley-Davidson motorcycle) approaching from the rear. As is my habit, I quickly plug my ears with my fingers. The biker stops at a stop sign just ahead, turns to glare at me, and repeatedly revs his engine to a deafening level, taunting and punishing me for not admiring him and his noisy machine.
It has been firmly established that frequent or prolonged exposure to loud sounds can cause or aggravate serious health problems, including hearing loss, anxiety and high blood pressure. Unwanted noise is a major cause of stress. We acknowledge this by enacting and enforcing laws that forbid excessive noise from defective car mufflers, car stereos, barking dogs, late-night parties and construction projects. Inexplicably, we have exempted motorcycles from such regulation.
Many large cycles, especially hogs, are horribly loud off the assembly line, then routinely made even louder with muffler modifications by the owners. One such bike roaring through a neighborhood interrupts all conversation, relaxation, sleep and enjoyment of music and television. Hundreds of people are affected by one biker. When 20 such bikes roar by together, it’s akin to a jet airliner taking off down the street.
Why do we put up with this tyranny of noise? The technology exists to silence motorcycles as effectively as car mufflers silence 300-horsepower sedans. Some large bikes use such technology and zoom along quietly. But hog owners, encouraged by the Harley-Davidson company, which has patented the rumble, have a fetish for the noise and enjoy imposing it on others. They make no exceptions for schools, libraries, hospitals or residential neighborhoods late at night.
One person told me that any effort to restrict motorcycle noise is doomed to fail because “it’s a cultural thing, like fireworks.” But we allow and endure fireworks only a couple days a year, not every minute of every day. It used to be culturally acceptable to smoke in restaurants, theaters and offices. Now it’s unthinkable. We can change cultural norms if we want to.
Society has made a lot of progress in raising awareness about air, water and food pollution. We have made some progress against noise pollution, but not nearly enough. We need to cancel the sacred-cow status of two-wheelers. Large bikes are not the only offenders. We have a growing problem with little scooters that sound like huge chainsaws.
A hog owner told me he loves to hear the rumble of his bike with the wind in his face. I suggested he put on headphones, crank up a recording of his hog accelerating, and sit in front of a fan. But then he wouldn’t have the perverse pleasure of imposing his racket on others.
Of course, industry lobbyists oppose efforts to quiet the cycles, so it would take political courage to improve the situation. There isn’t much of that in our state and county legislative bodies, so lovers of peace and quiet will have to apply pressure, much as anti-smoking activists have done with great success.
Kurt Butler, now retired in Makawao, Maui, has written books about controversial issues in nutrition and medicine.