Cities Are Turning To Automation To Enforce Vehicle Noise Ordinances

from the not-exactly-the-robocops-we-were-promised/threatened-with dept

Automated enforcement may ease the burden on law enforcement agencies and direct more officers towards serious crime, but nearly every device given that job has tended to perform poorly. Red light and speed enforcement cameras often get things wrong while simultaneously depriving falsely accused drivers of the opportunity to confront their accusers. And, because cities directly benefit from issued tickets, city officials have tinkered with things like yellow light timing to increase the number of tickets handed out.

Another entry in the law enforcement tech field — ShotSpotter — uses mics and sensors to detect noises suspected to be gunshots and issues alerts to law enforcement officers. Like the tech listed above, ShotSpotter is sometimes wrong. It’s wrongness can actually be quite damaging, since ShotSpotter employees have been accused of overriding decisions made by the AI to find gunshots where none existed and, unbelievably, manually moving the location of the detected gunshot to wherever makes the most sense for the narrative being constructed by law enforcement officers.

The intersection of both forms of tech listed above has come to New York City. As Road & Track reports, the city is utilizing traffic cameras and microphones to ticket drivers for driving too loudly.

If you live in New York and drive a loud car, you could receive a notice from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection telling you your car is too loud. Not because a police officer caught your noisy car, but because a computer did.

A photo of an official order from the New York City DEP was published to Facebook by a page called Lowered Congress on Monday, directed at a BMW M3 that may have been a bit too loud.

The notice posted to Facebook informs the driver that their vehicle was “identified” as “having a muffler that is not in compliance with Section 386” of the city’s traffic laws. Not a single officer was involved in this determination.

Your vehicle was recorded by a camera that takes a picture of the vehicle and the license plate. In addition, a sound meter records the decibel level as the vehicle approaches and passes the camera.

The notice then goes on to tell the driver to bring the car to a wastewater treatment plant (?) in Brooklyn to have the vehicle’s exhaust system tested. It also gives the driver a chance to fix the problem before being subjected to any fines. This is better than a regular ticket, which would require a court visit to challenge. And bringing the vehicle in to be tested means the whole thing could go away if it turns out the camera/mic detection system was wrong.

That being said, failing to respond to these notices can subject drivers to fines as high as $875 per ignored notice, so no matter how inconvenient it may be to travel to the designated testing site (which, as noted above, appears to be a wastewater facility), ignoring these faux summons appears to be worst of these options.

Apparently, this ShotSpotter-but-for-cars system has been in place for awhile.

A New York City DEP spokesman confirmed to Road & Track via email the system is part of a small pilot program that’s been running since September 2021.

A similar system is about to be put in place in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The City of Knoxville is set to test out a noise-monitoring camera, a device that could help officials enforce local noise restrictions against loud vehicles.

The device is similar to red light cameras but is triggered by sound by using a filter designed to pick up on noisy vehicles and exhaust. A camera is scheduled to be installed at the intersection of Gay Street and Clinch Avenue for a trial run at no cost to the city.

This is the same system currently being test driven in New York City. An earlier interview with the director of the UK company providing the tech mentions the company has seven systems in use, including the one in New York City. The company also explained how the system works.

“The noise camera system is a class 1 precision sound level meter at the heart of it. With a couple of high resolution cameras attached to it. It’s measuring video and audio and noise levels all the time. It’s waiting for a noisy vehicle, and when it detects one, it captures video, audio, noise levels, and uploads everything to a web server, where someone can review it and make a judgment as to whether it’s ok or not,” said Intelligent Instruments director, Dave Coles.

What the system won’t do is record conversations. According to Coles, people conversing near these systems won’t produce enough decibels or the right frequencies to activate the system. And while the system may be constantly recording, it’s also constantly deleting, maintaining a running buffer until activated by the right kind of noise.

It’s a limited system that addresses a very specific problem. Unlike ShotSpotter, when this system is wrong, it’s unlikely to result in drivers being accosted by powerful people wielding guns. But it does suggest there’s plenty of marketplace room left for entrants in the traffic surveillance market. All they have to do is find a need cities have yet to realize can possibly be addressed by automation.

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Comments on “Cities Are Turning To Automation To Enforce Vehicle Noise Ordinances”

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Ehud Gavron (profile) says:


So… decibels are used to measure sound, and they are logarithmically ordered. That means that 3x dB is about twice the volume of the sound.

Then there’s dBa vs dBc. If you’re just measuring total sound volume dBa is the way to go. If you’re measuring device output (e.g. generator, tractor, forklift, etc.) dBc is the way to go.

Now that I’ve wasted your time talking about the tech… let’s talk about “Shotspotter”. It’s 100% ripoff. It’s scientifically inaccurate, subject to human intervention, and in any possible way just plain crap.

It would be great if somehow there was some mechanism for determining where firearms were used in cities… but this isn’t it.


Either way if you’re going to measure sound you need to know which way it’s measured per statutory regulations, and stick to that.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:



Do you think that you might be troubled to take the extra three seconds to explain WHY you think TOP was wrong? I mean, sure, it stands to reason he/she was a bit presumptuous… but calling it wrong without explanation makes you out to be the moron that you are.

anything that promotes unnessicary police interaction is wrong

Even if that was spelled correctly it’s a generalization that lacks explanation. It too should have had further explanation, just like the “Wrong” evaluation.

Time to think BEFORE posting, right?


James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Police enforce the law through the use of force. Currently, under the law, every interaction with the police comes with the threat that anyone present can be killed because an officer is vaguely threatened.

If you have a gun on you at all? Thats a corpse. If you don’t comply fast enough? Thats a corpse. If you comply too fast? Thats a corpse. Little child scared of the shouting and makes a sudden move? Thats a corpse. Pull out your wallet to show ID? Thats a corpse. Police misidentify someone? Thats a corpse. Warrent issued for the wrong person? Too bad, thats a corpse. Guilty of a nuisence crime with a nuisence fine? Well, thats justification for making you a corpse.

Since years of techdirt coverage hasnt informed you of this, lets try Beau. Perhaps he has a perspective you can wrap your head around.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Every encounter with law enforcement holds the threat of violence and legalized murder. This is because individuals who fear for their lives after being told they need to wait for fresh mcnuggets are in a position where the subjective fear for their life justifies any and all violence. unneccisary police interaction is simply a risk of violence being inflicted upon your person. The list of actions you have to take to not be shot is comprehensively contradictory.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Too loud

These systems have existed for some time throughout the country. Though this is the first large instalment I’ve read of.

To some degree it makes sense. Go after the idiot low-self-esteem kids who put exhaust fan caps on their 4-banger to make it sound bigger.
Hey, your car farted.

On the other this is problematic for any big engine vehicle. From todays Hellcats to the big boys of the 50s and 60s. Some cars can’t be made quite.
But I think that’s the real target anyway. Another drive to electric.

N0083rp00f says:


There is also the active accoustic noise cancelation tech available for exhaust systems. The bonus is that they are as close to a straight pipe as you can get without being a straight pipe.

Mind, those don’t last long in the rust belt but who in their right mind would drive a classic big block in the winter salt slush anyway?

Anon says:

Loud is annoying

I don’t see a problem with this, provided it is a warning not an automatic ticket. Plus, how to prove service? Simpler just to put vehicles that fail to show on a watch list for the cop car license plate readers. And of course, there should be no charge for the test on site – especially if the device is wrong and the car passes. Then – after enough test costs and little revenue, maybe the city would call it a failure.

Mick says:


It takes < 20 minutes to change from an aftermarket to a factory muffler, and ~5 minutes to change pipes on a loud motorcycle.

Literally no one is going to be caught by this. At best, the cities will only get money from people — who may or may not be guilty — who ignore the citation to begin with.

It’s yet another one of those “Let’s use tech we don’t understand to solve a problem that tech can’t possibly solve without human intervention” things that lazy (and lazy-minded) cops and politicians think is great.

Cattress (profile) says:

Tech can actually be used for good

Something that I just don’t understand is why aren’t we using tech to, say time lights in ways that reduce traffic jams and idle time? Use that information to determine where more lanes are needed, or create direction shifts to prevent one sided traffic jams, or create schedules companies can use to adjust their in person workforce. Reduce light pollution, redirect large animals like dear away from roads, towards a safer crossing point. Warn about actual flash flood conditions. How about better ways to combat snow and ice that don’t damage your car or pollute waterways. Instead of Spotshotter, WiFI, tablets, community gaming facilities. How about just some safe, free, common,legal places to park if you realize you are too tired or had too much to drink to drive.
And the noise problem? Yeah, I can sympathize, there are a couple jerks with loud ass cars, stereos full volume that drive past our windows at all hours. How about a couple of signs saying don’t be an inconsiderate asshole, no one is impressed with your loud ass muffler.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Wouldn't Mind This at All

Would love to have this here in Redondo Beach. Damn assholes on their Harleys ride up and down the streets all day (and in the middle of the night, too) purposely revving their engines so loud it makes the windows in my house rattle. Be awesome for a computer to shoot them an $800 ticket every time they wake my entire neighborhood up for no damn reason.

(Although if I was a Harley owner, it’d be hilarious to pull in next to the sensor, just out of camera view, and rev like crazy every time someone with a “Vote Democrat” bumper sticker passed by.)

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