Tag Archive: motorcyclists

Bikers at risk of profound hearing loss

Photo credit: ajay bhargav GUDURU from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to this article by Matt Colley for the British Motorcyclists Federation, bikers are making themselves deaf. Not exactly surprising, but the cause of the hearing loss isn’t just from riding loud motorcycles, it’s from exposure to wind noise.

Colley states that “[w]hen riding at 62mph, 95dB of noise turbulence is generated by the airflow within your helmet.” 95 decibels is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss. The article continues, adding that “even at standards speeds, exposure to wind noise can have significant consequences.” So what happens if a motorcyclist goes faster? “Unsurprisingly, the faster you go the higher the noise level and consequently the higher level of risk,” says Colley, adding that at 74mph the turbulence ratchets “up to 98dB, which can be damaging after only seven minutes of exposure.”

Ironic isn’t it? People ride big, loud motorcycles because they love the sense of freedom and power and yes—they like being noticed. Meanwhile, motorcycle manufacturers–even Harley Davidson–are already developing quiet, battery-powered bikes. But a quiet, electric motorcycle, while clearly an improvement for helpless bystanders, won’t solve the wind-noise problem that the British Motorcycle Federation says is the real cause of hearing loss among motorcycle riders.

As Colley notes, it’s important for riders to hear sounds that are necessary for situational awareness, like horns and sirens. He adds that wind noise causes fatique, requiring rider to concentrate more. So what does he suggest? Something we at The Quiet Coalition have recommended since our inception–always use ear protection when you are exposed to loud noise.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Hear, hear!

Why aren’t more motorcycle riders cited for traffic noise?

Adam Lynn, traffic reporter for The Olympian, examines a common lament regarding motorcycle noise.  Namely, Washington State has regulations governing motorcycle exhaust noise but motorcyclists ride with impunity as the regulations appear to be rarely enforced.  Lynn’s research revealed that there were two relevant statutes governing exhaust and muffler noise, so he then turned to the Washington State Patrol to ask them about enforcement.

While the spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol was able to tell Lynn the number of people stopped for excessive vehicle noise (3,214), which presumably included motorcycles, he could not say how many citations were handed out.  “In many instances,” said the spokesperson, “troopers simply inform drivers that their vehicles are illegally modified and need to be brought into compliance with the law,” adding that many owners plead ignorance and claim that they thought the modified exhaust was legal because it was installed by a muffler or motorcycle shop.

Apparently the Washington State troopers are unaware of the legal principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse.  And we must add that the claimed ignorance is less believable when you realize that the offending exhaust pipes are aftermarket.  That is, new motorcycles are sold with less offensive exhaust pipes that the owner must replace with modified exhausts in order to make the motorcycle as loud as possible so as to assault as many ears as possible.

Perhaps the Patrol should hand out citations instead of warnings the first time.  Nothing like a punishing fine to insure that there won’t be a second time.