What’s not to like about cruise nights, the colourful Winnipeg tradition in which parades of lovingly customized cars and trucks provide a gleaming display of venerable vehicles, often to the appreciation of onlookers who gather at roadside to watch?
The noise — that’s not to like. Some vehicles purposely grab attention by roaring louder than should be reasonably tolerated in a tightly packed urban space, where people in aural proximity need to co-exist respectfully.
Residents of Wolseley and the West End are fed up with what they consider gratuitous vehicle tumult. Their complaints about the din of Sunday cruise nights led last week to a presentation before a civic committee, which resulted in direction to city administration to report back on noise-monitoring technology that could help authorities identify and fine offenders.
The irritant, specifically, is the needless clamour created by after-market exhaust systems. Owners who want a more throaty exhaust sound — a revving roar that perhaps makes drivers feel like they’re flexing their biceps — can purchase a range of modifications, from straight-on pipes that protrude directly from the back end of vehicles, to whistles that attach to exhaust tips and can make a Honda Civic sound like a turbocharged Porsche.
The irritant, specifically, is the needless clamor created by after–market exhaust systems.
The administrators now charged with investigating how to use technology to crack down on thunderous Winnipeg vehicles might find their assignment challenging, if the experience of Edmonton is an indication.
In 2018, Edmonton installed microphone-based monitoring equipment with LED display boards at several intersections. The enforcement strategy was undermined somewhat when drivers instead used the noise-measuring boards in competitions to see who could rev the loudest.
Another problem in Edmonton was the legal inadmissibility of audio evidence. The devices combined cameras and microphones, taking an automatic photograph of a vehicle and simultaneously recording the decibel levels of noise emitted. The audio recordings were found to be inadequate for prosecution, however, because the devices measured a 360-degree recording of sound, unable to focus specifically on the noise emitted by a particular vehicle that was photographed. It meant, for example, an audio reading could be unfairly skewed by peals from a passing ambulance.
While it appears the automated technology tested by Edmonton has not yet evolved to be a reliable tool for pinpointing excessively noisy vehicles, the complaints by Wolseley and West End residents should be taken seriously. Coun. Cindy Gilroy reported that some people are unable to sit outside their homes on Sunday evenings because of the uproar.
Unlike many other cities, Winnipeg’s laws do not state specific volume restrictions for vehicles.
Winnipeg police periodically monitor cruise nights, and have handed out tickets for such offences as seatbelt violations, window tinting, dangerous driving and using cellphones while behind the wheel.
What’s typically missing, however, are a large number of tickets for excessive noise. Unlike many other cities, Winnipeg’s laws do not state specific volume restrictions for vehicles. Calgary says moving vehicles can’t be louder than 96 decibels, which is the same decibel level at which Toronto and Edmonton cap motorcycle noise.
In Winnipeg, vehicle noise is governed by the provincial Highway Traffic Act, and the municipal Neighbourhood Liveability Bylaw. These laws vaguely prohibit "unnecessary noise," but neither prescribes measurable limits for vehicular sound that would help measure and prosecute drivers who seek to attract attention with their outsized racket.
If Winnipeg’s laws were updated to include a maximum decibel level, vehicles owners would have a quantifiable way to determine whether their vehicle’s noise is legal. And, armed with a decibel meter, police could occasionally attend cruise nights, ticket books in hand, reminding drivers their right to customize their vehicles doesn’t extend to annoying everyone within earshot.