Motorcycles without silencer must be stopped: Campaign against traffic noise in India

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In India’s towns and cities, the most common source of noise pollution is the honking (blowing horn) of cars and motorcycles. A major type of noise, rather nuisance, is the sound of motorcycles whose silencer has been removed or a modification made in its exhaust pipe to create extra thumping noise. Such bikes passing nearby can frighten or shock anyone. They are especially harmful for frail ears of children, infants, the elderly and the sick people, not to mention leading to an enormous increase in the noise level of neighbourhoods. The easiest way to increase the thumping sound is to remove the catalytic converter, a component fitted to the exhaust pipe. Without the catalytic converter, such bikes are obviously also releasing toxic gases in the air.

One particular brand of motorcycle, Royal Enfield Bullet, is especially modified by users for the enhanced noise, although bikes of other brands such as Pulsar and Yamaha are also modified. Some aftermarket modifications in exhaust pipe also create the sounds of loud blasts – a popular hobby of young bikers these days. The only benefit of this noise is the male macho feeling and adventurism that the bikers seem to show off. Besides being a nuisance to the public, this activity is unlawful in two ways: (1) it creates noise levels that are above the permissible limits, and (2) makes illegal modifications in a motor vehicle which makes its warranty void. (Under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, any alteration to the factory model is illegal).

The traffic police and civic authorities do not seem to be making any effort in curbing this menace. And much of the public thinks that this is normal part of our traffic. The people who are adversely affected by this noise (elderly, sick or infants) have no choice but to tolerate it helplessly. 

Excessive honking or blowing of horn while driving in any case is an older habit of India’s motor drivers. They tend to honk for every little reason, sometimes even for no reason at all – but mostly to tell those ahead of them to clear the way for them! They never realise the damage their old habit is making to the environment, and seem to enjoy the noisy roads. Very loud music inside cars is another menace on Indian roads. Much of this noise (especially the motorcycles without silencer) are found in smaller towns, crowded markets and neighbourhoods with low-income residents. The policy makers probably do not hear it on a daily basis and do not realise the gravity of the problem.

What needs to be done? Suggested below are some measures that should be taken:

(1) Indian govt. authorities or traffic police personnels must stop the vehicles with high-level noise and either warn the owners about using silencer or put a fine on violators.

(2) Media and environment groups (even RWAs) should make awareness campaigns against the use of silencer-less bikes, using various means such as videos, printed literature, sign boards and leaflets etc. Film/video makers and artists/designers must volunteer to create video and poster campaigns for this awareness. FM radio stations must broadcast effective messages in this regard.

(3) Vehicle manufacturers (such as Enfield) must either apply special technology on their vehicles which makes it impossible to make modifications of noise-enhancement, and/or refuse to service and maintain vehicles that have been modified within the guarantee period.

(4) There should be ban on horns that are very shrill or produce sounds above the permissible limit.

(5) Local mechanics or motor repair shops should be fined if they are found to be making noise-enhancement modifications.

(6) General public should stop the violators on the roads and tell them about their violation.