Thanks to a recent law change, the city of Newport is looking to rev up enforcement of loud noise violations, including that emanating from motorcycles, a topic of concern for residents.
Newport This Week spoke with the Newport Police Department about the modifications to local noise ordinances and how they will affect enforcement this summer.
“We’ve made the law simple and easy for officers to enforce,” said Lt. Michael Naylor, who also heads the department’s traffic unit. The Law Change
On April 26, the City Council unanimously approved a sweeping change to Newport’s vehicle related noise ordinance that does away with a complicated system of measurement and instead inserts a uniform, city-wide decibel threshold and standard for sound readings. Now, any vehicle or group of vehicles found to be emanating noise over 86 decibels from a reading within 50 feet are in violation.
Previously, a noise violation took factors such as vehicle weight, time of day, area of the city, speed limits and distance into account, creating a complex formula for what constituted a violation. Due to the complicated approach, police had trouble enforcing the ordinance in the heat of the moment.
“In the old ordinance, we were very particular about a certain distance and a certain decibel,” said interim police chief Ryan Duffy. “As opposed to now, where we have to be within a certain distance. This makes it easier for us, because it allows the officers a range of distance to measure at …”
In January, councilor Mark Aramli successfully championed a resolution to address the “quality of-life issue,” directing city staff to research the subject and report back with recommendations in the spring. The move came after Aramli said he heard complaints from residents regarding motorcycle noise throughout the city, but particularly in the Point and along Ocean Drive, an issue the councilor campaigned on. Aramli, a resident of the Ocean Drive area, said he was also personally affected by the volume of motorcycles traveling the scenic route.
“It has become very clear to me that excessive motorcycle street noise from open-pipe motorcycles and modified vehicle exhausts has become a very real issue in our city, particularly for residents who live on the loops, the highly trafficked routes, Ocean Drive, downtown and areas in the Fifth Ward,” he said in January.
Due to its seaside beauty, Newport is a destination for many motorcycle clubs in and around Aquidneck Island, Rhode Island and New England.
Joe Rosa, the president of the Viking Riders of Aquidneck Island, a nonprofit motorcycle club that regularly travels through Newport, thinks the increased enforcement is unnecessary, and fears motorcycles may be targeted.
“The vast majority of riders are respectful,” he said. “What about all the commotion and noise coming from Thames Street at night? Are we going to enforce noise down there from pedestrians coming out of the bars and restaurants? What about the loud trucks people frequently complain about or cars playing loud music?”
The Viking Riders’ mission is to help those in need, and members typically deliver food, toys, living necessities and other products to organizations such as Lucy’s Hearth, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center and Wounded Warriors, along with participating in local fundraisers, such as Walk for Life.
“My biggest fear is that this is a message that motorcycles are no longer allowed in Newport,” Rosa said. “The vast majority of the riding we do directly benefits good causes. The members are invested in that and we want to be able to continue to do it.”
Naylor said that although the city and City Council frequently hear complaints of loud motorcycles, the Police Department received less than 50 complaints related to the issue in the past three years.
“That’s not a crazy number,” Naylor said. “We have some houses that will have five, six or seven noise complaints for that one house.”
Enforcement and Modified Mufflers
Every patrol officer is currently undergoing training to enforce the new noise ordinance, studying the law and learning the equipment. Sound from vehicles will be measured via decibel readers, which are small, walkie-talkie shaped devices with an attached microphone. The department will have three to four decibel readers on patrol at any given time.
Taking readings is similar to a radar gun – one points the device in the direction of the noise and observes the resulting decibel level. The police can use any stationary marker, from trees to traffic cones, to measure the distance of the reading.
Violations result in a citation and are punishable with fines that increase with the number of infractions.
One significant component the department learned in outreach with motorcycle clubs and riders was that any motorcycle can be deemed excessively loud. Previously, particularly in the 2000s when the issue was also studied, the department focused on “straight pipes,” or motorcycle mufflers that have been modified specifically to increase the amount of noise they produce. Naylor said that is no longer the case.
“We don’t condone [modifying mufflers],” Rosa said. “The Vikings tend to ride a lot of Harley Davidsons, and those are good enough.”
The department instead recently tested four unmodified police motorcycles in different areas of the city, including Thames Street, Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive. The police, along with the city solicitor’s office, determined the 86-decibel limit by observing the sound level recorded when traveling at a typical pace versus revving the engine. When riding normally, unmodified motorcycles come close to, but do not exceed, the threshold. However, gassing up will result in a violation.
“If you gas it and want to be that guy, you go over the decibel limit,” Naylor said. “It doesn’t take much. If you rev it up, you’re likely going to go over the limit. That’s with a street-legal muffler. With a straight pipe or modified muffler, some of those are very loud all of the time.”
Often, motorcycles ride in groups through Newport, a factor that still presents difficulty in en(- forcement for police. However, Duffy said officers regularly pull over groups of motorcycles and the law change grants the department the authority to stop groups and identify the violators.
“At the very least, if we’re unable to pinpoint who it is, we will have an educational interaction,” Duffy said. “A ticket may be difficult if we can’t figure out who it is, but we can still have that public contact.”
The department also plans to coordinate with the State Police and Department of Motor Vehicles to establish checkpoints at hotspots twice in the summer and once in the fall to inspect mufflers to ensure compliance with federal standards. The state retains the legal authority to stop all vehicles without suspicion or cause for equipment inspection purposes, but Rosa believes the checkpoints to be a bit much.
“It does feel a little discriminatory and not something motorcycle riders should have to go through,” he said.
The police are now reaching out to motorcycle clubs and dealerships to bring them up to speed on the law changes and to educate riders.
Law Applies to All Vehicles
When asked about concerns from motorcyclists, police agreed the vast majority of riders are respectful and some do not realize the volume of their bikes. Duffy and Naylor said the changes to the noise ordinances will apply to all vehicles, and motorcycles are not being targeted.
“This will be loud vehicles, from the trucks to the pedicab that’s playing music too loud to the Hondas with the huge exhausts; it’s all the same,” Duffy said. “It just happens to seem that we’re focused on the motorcycles because that’s what the discussion has been centered around.”
The city’s noise ordinances are wide in scope and regulate noise from people, construction equipment, events, boats and more in addition to vehicles. The Police Department has Rhode Island Department of Transportation-certified patrol officers that have been trained to enforce noise limits from large, loud trucks, a volume issue that has also resulted in frequent complaints from residents.
“I’m very pleased that it’s not going to go after motorcycles,” Rosa said. “We’ll see how it plays out. We want to work with police and do our part to ensure that we can continue to do the things we do and enjoy riding through Newport.”
So, this law will be enforced on Ocean Drive, the Point, and the Fifth Ward? Try living on Malbone Road and hearing the off road bikes screaming down the street. But I do realize we’re in the North End and we are barely recognized as Newporters.
How about construction vehicles…… waiting until AT LEAST 7am before they start bulldozing, jack hammering, and other things.