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February 18, 2010

Maine Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles


Forty supporters of Maine Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles (MECALM) are backing a compromise they hope will convince the legislature to pass a bill this year to crack down on motorcycle noise, without delay or further study.  The idea was proposed in a letter (full text) sent February 16, 2010 to members of the Transportation Committee, which set a February 19 work session on LD1675, Sen. Nancy Sullivan’s “Act To Reduce Noise Caused by Motorcycles and Improve Public Health.” See MECALM’s reaction to the bill.

The compromise would limit police to stopping only excessively loud motorcycles to check whether the muffler and chassis bear matching EPA labels as required by federal law and EPA regulation.  Bikes operated at reasonable sound levels, and those parked on the street, would not be subject to label checks.  The federal law has been in place since the early 1980s, but can only be enforced if first adopted locally.

“Our desire is not to penalize motorcycles that are operating quietly,” the MECALM supporters wrote.  “While we would prefer that all bikes comply with the federal law EPA matching law, some after-market exhausts that lack the required label do operate quietly.”  They said the proposed compromise “should eliminate any objections that quiet operators will be unfairly inconvenienced or targeted, a commonly expressed fear within the biking community.  Only loud bikes, in the enforcing officer’s opinion, would be stopped.”  The MECALM supporters suggested an initial fine of $250, and $500 for subsequent violations, to “provide a meaningful deterrent.”

The group also urged the legislature to immediately require all motorcycles to carry visible inspection stickers, like those mandated for all cars and trucks.  State figures show that 38% of Maine’s 50,000 registered motorcycles go uninspected each year. “Encouraging greater inspection compliance will begin to curb the noise problem (missing or severely altered mufflers would fail inspection), reduce air pollution from tampered exhausts, and lead to safer bikes overall,” the group wrote.  “Further, it is a simple matter of fairness that motorcycles in Maine should abide by the same inspection sticker display requirements that apply to every car and truck in the state.” They warned, however, that inspection reform by itself isn’t adequate, because of the ease of swapping a quiet muffler for an illegally loud one immediately after inspection.  The EPA label match system would provide a second layer of enforcement applied only to loud bikes.

The Maine State Police have expressed interest in exploring and possibly testing a roadside noise meter test that was developed, funded, and announced in 2009 by the motorcycle industry itself.  The letter signers said they are open to learning more about roadside testing, but have “initial reservations” that it “has serious flaws that make it impractical, expensive, and unlikely to hold up in court.”   A major roadblock could be the possible $1500+ cost of meters, putting them out of reach of most local police departments in times of tight budgets.  They added that roadside testing poses training, calibration and background noise issues that make the results easy to challenge in court.

The MECALM backers said even if roadside testing were proven to be workable it “should never be considered 100% of any solution, but rather a future tool that some police departments or communities may choose, to be used in conjunction with the EPA matching label system and visible inspection stickers on bikes.”

The quiet-bike advocates stressed that they believe the modified EPA label check and visible inspection sticker can be passed by the legislature in the current session, and should not be delayed if the Transportation Committee decides the roadside testing issue requires further study.

The group also asked for state help in educating local police departments about how they can now act to curb loud motorcycle noise.  Even without a specific statewide anti-motorcycle noise law in place, any patrol officer in the state can currently stop a loud bike on suspicion that it is uninspected.  Bikers must carry proof of inspection with them, and provide it if asked by law enforcement.

MECALM believes large numbers of Maine’s 20,000 uninspected bikes would flunk inspection because the legal factory-installed exhausts have been tampered with (creating so-called “straight pipes”), or replaced with “after market” exhausts that lack the required EPA label, to deliberately produce more noise.  Many of the replacement exhausts are not “street legal” under federal law, and are specifically stamped that they are for “off road” use only.

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