Menu Menu

How are noise cameras tackling sound pollution?

The technology, which is paired with a sound meter to detect noise of at least 85 decibels from a source of 50ft or more away, has recently been installed across several cities in the US to help police identify vehicles that have been illegally modified to be louder.

While having to tolerate noise is the reality of residing in any major city, there’s one sound in particular that’s a highly unnecessary addition to the daily hustle and bustle of urban life.

I’m referring to the deafening vrooms of performance-enhanced vehicles, which have recently become as commonplace as the pounding music of bars, the babble of pedestrians, and the horn-honking of irritable drivers stuck in standstill traffic.

And because we know now that noise pollution is more than just a nuisance – it’s a health risk, not only driving hearing loss, tinnitus, and hypersensitivity to sound, but exacerbating and causing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and mental health conditions – local authorities deem combatting this a top priority for the safety of metropolitans.

‘Most people recognise that too much noise damages your hearing, but we’re getting increasingly concerned as there is a rich body of literature connecting noise with high blood pressure and the risk of a heart attack or strokes,’ says Richard Neitzel, an environmental health studies professor at the University of Michigan.

Loud Noises: Health Dangers

‘It’s harming us in ways that are potentially fatal, and much more common than we historically understood.’

So, how are experts seeking to tackle the growing problem of anti-social individuals in built-up areas who’ve illegally modified their cars or motorcycles to wreak havoc on our eardrums?

With noise cameras, which are an improvement on traditional speed cameras that work by using sensors to flag speeding vehicles and log the offender’s licence plate so they can be prosecuted.

In this case, rather than being activated by motion, the tech is paired with a sound meter to detect noise of at least 85 decibels from a source of 50ft or more away.

New noise camera trial to crack down on illegal vehicles - GOV.UK

‘The microphones are spaced a small distance apart, which means the sound hits each microphone with a tiny delay relative to the other,’ says Reuben Peckham, director of Intelligent Instruments Ltd which owns SoundVue – the company behind the cameras.

‘This machine then uses this delay to pinpoint where the sound comes from.’

Currently being rolled-out across several US states including New York, Tennessee, Florida, and California as part of the Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution (Sleep) Act, if the baseline infraction is surpassed, it will amount in a fine ranging from $220 for a first offense to $2,625 for a repeated default.

Some, however, fear that because these devices are AI-driven, meaning capabilities can be added over time, that data apart from noise will be gathered, presenting a privacy risk for city residents.

Bradford and Birmingham among areas to get noise cameras | Visordown

Others worry that it will punish people of colour, and that noise cameras are merely band-aids for a more systemic issue.

‘What’s likely to happen is that the cameras are going to be put in a neighbourhood with a lot of Black and brown kids who play loud music,’ says professor of epidemiology at Brown University, Erica Walker, who studies the relationship between community noise and health.

‘You can punish and fine a lot of people, but it won’t address these bigger picture issues.’

Responding to this argument that the technology could over-police BIPOC communities, the manufacturer said: ‘if no violation is committed, then there is no risk of surveillance.’