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Rep. seeks to quiet motorcycle noise, mandate helmets

January 25, 2010

Rep. seeks to quiet motorcycle noise, mandate helmets

NORTH HAMPTON — Depending on the duration and destination of his ride, Al Contois might take his Harley-Davidson Ultra Glide for a ride without wearing a helmet.

“Helmets do provide safety, but I believe in choices,” said Contois, a Stratham resident who works as president and general manager of Seacoast Harley-Davidson.

Contois estimates 60 percent to 65 percent of all customers at the North Hampton motorcycle store arrive on bikes while not wearing helmets.

“Customers coming up from Massachusetts take their helmets off at the border,” he said. “We have a motto here, ‘Live free and ride.'”

State Rep. Judith Day lives in the same town as the destination Harley-Davidson store and is sponsoring a bill that, if passed, would require everyone riding on a motorcycle in the state to wear a helmet.

Day, a Democrat, also hopes to pass law requiring all motorcycles manufactured after 1982 to have “emission systems labels,” proving the bikes adhere to federal noise standards.

Hearings for both are scheduled Thursday at the State House, when Day will push for the regulations and motorcycle riders are expected to object.

Contois sent an e-mail alert to 5,000 Seacoast Harley-Davidson customers, calling the debates “critical” and advising bikers to “plan on spending the day.”

“People using public roads should have to be responsible riders,” said Day, who is advocating for a helmet law by reminding that head injuries cost everyone through increased hospital costs, rehabilitation and loss of employment.

“Not to mention the human cost to your spouse and family,” she said.

A former special education teacher who worked with brain-injured adults, Day said putting on a helmet is not a hardship.

Contois said riding without one offers him “a little more freedom.”

The trademark sound of a Harley-Davidson motor — often cited as sounding like “potato, potato, potato” — also will be debated Thursday. It’ll be the second time Day tries to quiet motorcycles of all makes, this time taking a different strategy.

Last year she introduced a bill that would have lowered the allowed decibels from motorcycle exhaust pipes. That bill was killed after much testimony about how hard it is to accurately measure noise levels on the streets.

This year she’s sponsoring a bill that mirrors Boston and Denver ordinances requiring all motorcycles made after 1982 to have emissions systems labels, or the owner would be subject to a $500 fine.

The labels certify motorcycle exhausts as meeting federal noise standards, while some motorcycle owners modify their pipes.

Contois estimates 5 percent of area Harley owners have loud “straight pipes” and said those riders should be cited under existing law, instead of regulating all motorcycle riders. Existing law says motorcycle exhaust noise should not exceed 106 decibels.

“If we enforced over 106, we wouldn’t have a problem,” he said. “It’s the people with straight pipes riding through Market Square that are a problem.”

Day said the federal labels would lower accepted decibels to 82 and the labels themselves would prove the bikes meet the standard.

Her motive, she said, are residents who constantly complain about motorcycle noise in the Hampton area.

New Castle resident Bill Mitchell was so tired of motorcycle noise, he bought the town’s police department a decibel meter. Last week he wrote to members of the Transportation Committee asking them to support Day’s motorcycle bills.

“For too long the citizens of New Hampshire have had to endure the outrageous racket caused by improperly muffled motorcycles,” he wrote. “There is no justification in this day and age of environmental enlightenment to permit this noise pollution, or for allowing a minority to infringe on the rights of the majority to peace and quiet.”

Contois said his business works with police departments by conducting volunteer decibel checks, advertising to customers about not making excessive noise and installing legal pipes at no cost to customers who buy them there.

“We don’t want people to ruin it for everyone,” he said.

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