A trial of new acoustic camera technology aimed at suppressing excessively loud vehicle exhausts is due to start in Bradford this week ahead of a possible roll-out to the rest of the country.

The new cameras, similar to those used to catch speeding drivers, are fitted with microphones capable of detecting whether a car or motorcycle exceeds the legal noise limit. This is in addition to a video camera and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to relay information to the police for possible prosecution.

The legal noise limit for cars in the UK is 72 decibels for cars registered since 2016; for cars registered after 2007 and before 2016 must not exceed 74 decibels.

MOT testing does not require the use of a decibel meter to monitor a car’s noise output, with the tester leaving it to the tester’s discretion whether or not a car is too loud.

“Beware of rowdy lorry drivers – these new cameras will help police crack down on those who break legal noise limits or use illegal modified exhausts to make excessive noise in our communities,” said Transport Secretary Anne- Mary Trevelyan.

“We will work closely with local authorities and police to share any findings, and I hope this technology will pave the way for quieter, more peaceful streets across the country.”

Impact on mental and physical health

Traffic-related noise pollution has been repeatedly linked to negative mental and physical health effects, including heart attacks, stress, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Currently the penalty in the UK for driving or driving an excessively loud vehicle is a potential on-the-spot fine of £50, although gathering evidence is difficult – something the Bradford trial aims to change .

Bradford is the first of four sites in England and Wales where the new acoustic camera technology will be tested, and the scheme follows a call from the Department for Transport earlier this year for areas affected by noise pollution to submit claims to be included as part of the lawsuit. A total of £300,000 has been set aside for the scheme.

The trial, which is expected to last three years, aims to refine and further develop the acoustic camera technology.

Similar technology already used in London

Older forms of acoustic cameras are already in use around the world and in other parts of Britain. Over the past three years, the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has used acoustic cameras at four locations in the area and between June 2021 and February 2022 some 10,000 vehicles have been recorded exceeding the noise limit , 289 of which were caught producing in excess of 100 decibels.

The region is a hotspot for high-end performance cars with the most frequently taken BMW drivers, followed by Lamborghini, Mercedes, Ferrari, Audi and Land Rover drivers – in that order.

On one occasion, a Lamborghini was recorded reaching 112 decibels, which is louder than a landing jet, a chainsaw or a jackhammer. High performance and modified cars often produce a popping noise caused by unburned fuel burning in the exhaust system that can sound like gunfire.

A system similar to that in Chelsea and Kensington also started operating in the Borough of Westminster earlier this year, with the loudest vehicle encountered to date reaching 111 decibels.

At present the fine for breaching vehicle noise limits in Chelsea and Kensington is £100, with local councilor Johnny Thalassites forced into a public space protection order after receiving hundreds public complaints about sleep disturbances, stress and bullying.

“It’s not about punishing ordinary people who try to get around town to do their business,” he said.

“If you’re driving sensibly, this shouldn’t surprise you.”

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