The motorcycle `noise advantage'


August 03, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SO NOW I think I've heard it all, eardrum-busting motorcycles notwithstanding. Several readers -- motorcyclists all -- e-mailed to say that the noise that so many of us hate so much saves lives. They call it the "noise advantage."

First up is Joseph Kaplan, who theorizes that motorcycle mufflers are "designed purposely to make more noise than cars so that people and other vehicles like cars, trucks, buses know they are in the vicinity and to look out."

The noise compensates for motorcycles' size, Mr. Kaplan said. "As motorcycles are physically smaller and more difficult to see, motorcyclists are more vulnerable to death then drivers of cars," he said. "[Because] drivers and pedestrians don't normally look out for motorcyclists, the motorcycle needs a noise advantage. Unfortunately, some motorcyclists replace the pipes (mufflers) that come stock on their motorcycles with ones that make even more noise. I encourage you to dislike only the really loud bikes and understand why responsible motorcyclists do need to make some noise."

The problem is that I bet our definitions of "really loud bikes" are quite different.

Brian Kelm is a longtime motorcyclist who has owned several motorcycles over the years -- from very noisy Triumphs to his current, "relatively quiet" Ducati. "While you and others may be offended by the noise of unmuffled motorcycles, the fact remains that you hear them before you see them!" he said. "With today's drivers so distracted, that noise is all we have to let them know where we are and hopefully it will keep them from turning in front of us and maybe it will save a few lives. If those loud pipes can save just one life a year then it's OK with me if I have to hear them before I see them."

And finally, another proponent of the "noise advantage" theory is Dennis Biennas, a retired police officer who rode a police motorcycle for 10 years. He owns a Harley Davidson, so we know right off the bat where he stands on the noise issue. "I will be the devil's advocate. Since a motorcycle can be hidden by the door post of a car for a fraction of a second, maybe the loud exhausts are a good thing. At least, the noise alerts you to a motorcycle nearby," he said.

And again, that's what mirrors are for. If a motorcycle is at such a dangerous disadvantage on the highways and byways, then perhaps they shouldn't be on the road at all.

But Mr. Biennas made some sense. "Everyone is upset about the noise. One guy suggested that the police be called to resolve the problem. There are not enough police in the world to write all the citations necessary to solve this problem. The police cannot control free will and human behavior. Police simply write citations for violations they observe in an attempt to gain voluntary compliance. All motorcycles sold from dealers have legal exhaust systems on them. There is no way to control an individual who purchases after market pipes that enhance the noise level," he said.

You could argue the same about speeding, but the possibility of getting tickets has reduced my need for speed. If the threat of ticketing for extreme noise exists for motorcyclists, perhaps they'd tone the noise down a bit.

Mr. Biennas also responded to a reader who complained in last week's column that some motorcyclists seem to try to get themselves killed by their reckless driving. "I love the rationale that unsafe motorcyclists try `to get themselves killed,' " he said. "This person rationalizes that an unsafe motorcyclist deserves death more than [any other driver]. This is absurd: No one deserves to die in a motor vehicle accident."

Yes, I agree. Even stupid drivers deserve to live.

He notes, correctly in my opinion, that the majority of motorcyclists are safe drivers. "Occasionally drivers will tailgate and pull out in front of you," he said.

But for the record, plenty of four-wheelers do, too, and probably more often [counting on intimidation and the law of tonnage to get away with it.] "Your readers should remember that a fender bender in a car can be a fatality on a motorcycle. When driving, discretion is the better part of valor. Give motorcycles a wide berth and pull into the next lane when an aggressive driver speeds up behind [you] blinking his lights," he advised.

Mr. Biennas senses the aggressive nature of drivers today, especially as expressed through this column. "Contrary to popular belief, a driver's license is a privilege and not a right," he said. "We also do not own the 10 feet of road that surrounds our vehicle when we drive down the road."

I couldn't have said that better myself.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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