While standardized sound tests certainly provide valuable and useful information, to rely solely on this metric really misses the mark regarding the unique situation we find ourselves in. The J1287 test was designed to determine sound levels from motorcycles, a notoriously noisy, yet relatively rare mode of travel. We are now talking about applying this test to a machine that represents a much larger proportion of all vehicle traffic on our roads, the UTV. As Mayor Niehaus put it, the problem is not just the volume, it is the volume of the volume. In other words, the issue isn’t about decibels alone, it’s about the number of vehicles pumping out all these decibels.
The limit of 96 decibels from 20 inches translates to about 82 decibels at 50 feet. But how loud is 82 decibels? Some common comparisons at the 80-decibel level are alarm clocks, garbage disposals, freight trains at a 15-meter distance, and lawnmowers. While these sounds may be tolerable in small doses (who among us doesn’t use an alarm clock to wake up?), they become decidedly less tolerable with prolonged exposure. Can you imagine trying to conduct your life with an alarm clock going off near you at all times? How about a freight train?
This is effectively what we are dealing with when we discuss the issue of UTVs in our town. They are no longer a small dose of loud noise, but rather an ever-present auditory fog, the new background noise to our lives. The 95-decibel limit may be appropriate for a vehicle that you only hear on rare occasions, but not for one that you hear hundreds of times per day. Focusing on the volume is good, but we must also account for the volume of the volume.