A 20-year wait for a disappointing revision of vehicle noise limits

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Source: Transport and Environment (T&E)

The Commission has published its long-awaited proposals on reducing noise from cars, vans, buses and lorries, but the vast majority of cars already meet the first stage of the stricter limits, and almost a quarter meet the second stage. T&E says the proposals should have gone ‘farther and faster’, and has called for a third stage in the timetable in order to create an incentive for quieter vehicles.

The proposals are for a regulation to replace the existing vehicle noise directive that has been in place since 1970. It was last updated in 1992, but then it made a negligible difference to noise levels because it adopted standards that most vehicles were already meeting. T&E has been warning for the past three years that the same mistake could happen again, and this month’s proposals suggest it is unfortunately the case.

The proposals are for a reduction of two decibels for cars two years after the regulation is agreed, and then by another two decibels three years later. Limits for lorries would fall by one decibel in the first stage and two in the second. It would make the final noise limit 68 decibels for cars and 78 for lorries. These numbers are not directly comparable to the existing limits, as the test method is being changed to more accurately reflect real-world conditions.

T&E deputy director Nina Renshaw said: ‘While this proposal is a welcome move in the right direction, it should have gone farther and faster. The new limits are clearly not tough enough – they should be stretching the automotive industry, not reflecting what it is doing already. 50 000 heart deaths in Europe are caused by transport noise every year, so it’s obvious the problem merits bolder action. And it’s far cheaper to add readily available noise-reducing technology to vehicles than for local councils that are struggling for money to spend millions on noise barriers along roads. The benefits outweigh the costs by 20 to one, so there’s no excuse for inaction.’

More than 200 million EU citizens are exposed to long-term road traffic noise levels that endanger their health. After air pollution, noise is the biggest cause of environmental health problems in Europe. The World Health Organisation says exposure to harmful levels of noise causes heart disease, sleep disturbance and hearing damage, and affects the ability of children to learn.

The Commission’s proposals appear to suggest that attempts by Germany’s car industry to weaken the proposed maximum noise levels have not been successful. But Germany has tried to undermine the EU’s efforts by proposing much weaker global standards to the UNECE standards body in Geneva. It has also indicated it will fight the Commission’s proposals, which now go to MEPs and representatives of member states.

The proposals do not include a minimum noise requirement, something that had been suggested for safety reasons as certain vehicles are so quiet at low speeds that they are thought to pose a risk to pedestrians who do not hear them coming.

More information on the proposal in the Commission press release at http://goo.gl/e5y4i

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