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Noise cameras and reporting loud cars

Drivers whose vehicles are responsible for growing levels of noise pollution face large fines if they’re caught by a planned network of acoustic cameras. 

We explain how this latest bit of surveillance technology works, what might happen to your car insurance if you’ve got a loud exhaust and outline what you can do if noisy cars are bothering you.

A blue car with a loud exhaust that could be at risk of a noise camera 

The government has responded to complaints about increasingly noisy cars by developing a national noise camera project.

This is aimed at identifying the worst offenders and issuing them with hefty fines.

The Department for Transport (DfT) originally announced a pilot scheme in the summer of 2019.

This saw new acoustic-camera technology installed at seven locations around the UK to see whether it could be effective at cracking down on noisy vehicles.

The pandemic is thought to have slowed progress on a full-scale implementation of noise-camera technology.

But at least one council has now successfully carried out its own test scheme.

Kensington and Chelsea council in west London has successfully introduced the devices. They’ve issued what are thought to be the UK’s first camera-enabled fines for excessively loud vehicles.


What is a noise camera?

Noise cameras, or acoustic cameras, are equipped with audio sensors that are triggered by cars and other vehicles that exceed pre-defined noise limits.

They also feature automated number plate recognition (ANPR) technology, which can read licence plates to help identify lawbreakers.

ANPR is already used in the likes of speed cameras and congestion charging zones.

Prior to the trials in the UK, similar noise camera schemes have been tested in the United Arab Emirates as well as in Edmonton, Canada.


Why are noise cameras being introduced?

When the UK scheme was originally unveiled in 2019, officials said noise-camera technology was necessary to eradicate the nuisance of cars and motorbikes revving their engines.

This was especially true in rural and residential areas.

When announcing its scheme, the DfT referred to studies that had demonstrated exposure to noise might have highly negative impacts on people’s physical and mental health.

Research suggests that noise pollution can play a major role in issues ranging from heart attacks and high blood pressure to stress and type-two diabetes.


What happens if a driver has a noisy car exhaust in the UK?

Under existing noise pollution laws, motorists with an exhaust that generates 'excessive' noise could be in line for an on-the-spot fine of £50.

The police can also demand that the offending vehicle is taken off the road until they reduce noise levels to a more acceptable level.


Do noise cameras work in tackling noisy car exhausts? 

In late 2020, the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea launched its own noise-camera pilot scheme after being unable to join the original DfT programme.

Officials said this followed 35 official complaints of excessive noise relating to engines revving between June and August 2020.

Councillors said that, in particular, Chelsea’s Sloane Street was a “magnet for Lamborghinis and Ferraris”, with drivers using the road to cruise and rev their engines.

Kensington and Chelsea had previously introduced a Public Space Protection Order. This gave its officers the right to issue penalty notices for excessive vehicle noise.

During the pilot, the cameras were triggered almost 2,000 times. The council issued 163 fines and a further 69 warnings to drivers of loud cars.

Fines range from £100 to £2,500, and the council has the powers to seize the vehicles of persistent offenders.

The success of the pilot means that the scheme has since been extended to other parts of the borough.


What is the exhaust noise limit? 

In Britain, the legal limit for noise made by an exhaust is 74 decibels – roughly as loud as a flushing toilet.

Prior to the introduction of noise cameras, police officers were expected to use their own judgement to decide whether the limit was being broken.

The government didn’t set a pre-arranged level at which noise cameras in its trial would be triggered.

But those used in the London scheme were calibrated to catch offenders who generated 80 decibels or more. This is about as loud as an alarm clock.

This is a similar approach to speed cameras that have some tolerance before they’re triggered.


How can I report a noisy car exhaust?

If you’re being bothered by noisy car exhausts, your best options are to call 101 or make a complaint to your local council.

Alternatively, if it’s a neighbour’s loud car that is causing the nuisance, you might want to try and resolve the problem amicably yourself. Find out more about how to deal with disputes with your neighbours


Does having a loud exhaust impact on car insurance?

Drivers who modify their cars by adding powerful new exhausts could face major implications for their car insurance – as well as running the risk of being caught by new noise cameras.

Adding modifications to a car that make it more powerful or more valuable could lead to higher car insurance costs. This is before they’re potentially more attractive to thieves as well as more expensive to repair.

But the consequences could be even more drastic. Owners who make major modifications without telling their car insurance provider could face having claims rejected out of hand.

Most motor insurance policies require drivers to inform their insurer as soon as possible if they’re having any significant modifications carried out.

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It’s a good idea to speak to your insurer before authorising this kind of work.

That way, you should know whether or not you have to pay a higher premium. And you should have the peace of mind of knowing that you’re still fully insured.