Subs too loud? Time to turn it down or pay up

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  • The Milwaukee Common Council recently voted to reinstate a noise ordinance in the City of Milwaukee.
  • The measure allows the police department to cite and fine citizens for excessively loud car speakers, motorcycles, mufflers, and other sources of disturbance.
  • The ordinance was enacted in May-December of 2008 as a pilot program and was reinstated it after decreased noise complains resulted.

Milwaukee drivers can now receive traffic citations and fines for loud car stereos.

On Feb. 10, the Milwaukee Common Council voted 14-1 to reinstate a noise ordinance that allows police to fine drivers with loud car stereos. The public can participate in the process by reporting the license plate number, time and location of the noise violation to the police department.

Alderman Robert Donovan of Milwaukee's Eighth District is the sponsor of the ordinance.

Though the ordinance focuses on car stereos, it also targets loud motorcycles and mufflers among other sources of disturbance. The measure applies to noise from buildings and premises, machinery, electrical devices and vehicles.

The council's decision was reached based upon a successful experimental run of the ordinance from May to December of 2008. Before amendments made on June 16, 2008, excessive noise from premises like factories and residences was punishable, but vehicles and other machinery were not included.

The amendments on June 16 changed the measure to include noise from vehicles and other machinery for consideration. The amendments also state that the Milwaukee Police Department can fine vehicle owners for second or subsequent noise offenses, even if the owner is not the driver at the time of the incident.

The chief opposition to this measure is the subjectivity of penalizing something for being "too loud." Alderwoman Milele Coggs raised this concern and opposed the measure last year.

The regulation aims to diminish noise that disturbs the comfort, quiet or repose of persons in the vicinity of the source.

Richard Withers, legislative fiscal analyst for Milwaukee's Legislative Reference Bureau, said he has assisted Common Council members in drafting and researching noise ordinances for several years.

"Many of the Common Council members have reported increasing complains from constituents about both motorcycle and car stereo noise," Withers said. "Prior and current ordinances covered excessive noise within 50 feet of the source, but the complaints continued."

Withers said in developing this ordinance the thought was that excessive noise reports could be deterred if vehicle owners, not just drivers, are made responsible for noise levels.

"In fact, the Milwaukee Police Department recently provided testimony that since enactment, there has been a significant reduction in the number of complaints," Withers said.

He said Council members have also received fewer complaints. He said the provisions go into effect as of Feb. 27.

"This will allow more time through the next spring and summer, when violations have been historically high, to continue evaluating the impact of the program," he said.

Withers said citizens are welcome to bring complaints, but the provisions require direct testimony in Municipal Court if the noise citation is contested.

Edward Korabic, professor of speech pathology and audiology in the College of Health Sciences, said this ordinance does not spring from the negative effects of loud noise.

"This is about community noise standards and is really more of an annoyance issue," Korabic said.

He said it also is a safety issue, as drivers often cannot hear warning signals when stereos are too loud.

"This issue comes up every five years with Harley Fest," Korabic said. "These standards are concerned with things like how loud a sound can be so many feet from the source."

Bill Arnold, public information officer for the Milwaukee Common Council, said the ordinance worked well during its test-run last year.

"Basically, it was a pilot program last year, it expired and it worked well enough that the Council wanted to reinstate it," Arnold said.

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