NORTH SMITHFIELD – Melissa Flaherty said she’s been at funeral services in town that have to be paused so a group of loud motorcycles – with modified, illegal exhaust systems – can pass by.
It’s a problem, Flaherty told members of the Town Council this week, that she just can’t tolerate for another year without speaking out.
“As much as I love spring, I hate the noise in this town,” Flaherty said Tuesday night.
She’s not alone. Towns including Tiverton, Little Compton, East Greenwich and more have taken action to cut down on the disruption from loud motorcycles. In Newport, plans are underway to set up noise detection cameras that will automatically send out tickets to those who violate the city’s noise ordinance.
Other towns, such as Bristol, have put up large signs notifying riders of their intent to enforce the law.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency classifies motorcycle noise as a pollutant – and notes it has medical consequences.
“Studies have shown that there are direct links between noise and health,” notes an EPA write-up on Title IV of the Clean Air Act. “Problems related to noise include stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity. Noise Induced Hearing Loss is the most common and often discussed health effect, but research has shown that exposure to constant or high levels of noise can cause countless adverse health affects.”
The standard for street-legal exhaust noise emissions is 80 decibels, which Flaherty noted is the typical amount of noise you might hear from a car taking off. But According to Noise Off, a national noise abatement organization, 60-70 percent of bikers remove mandated factory-installed exhaust equipment, and replace it with something beyond the legal limit.
“Those are the kind of motorcycles that go through town all weekend long,” Flaherty said. “You have to stop speaking because you can’t hear yourself, and this is every single Saturday and Sunday all summer long.”
Flaherty noted that bikers traveling through town are breaking the law on two levels: by removing the mandatory equipment and exceeding North Smithfield’s noise ordinance. The problem, she noted, affects those along main roads such as Route 102, Pound Hill and Black Plain Roads – but side streets are not immune to the noise.
“It’s the whole town,” Flaherty said. “I don’t think I’ve ever brought this up in the past couple of years without someone saying ‘oh in my neighborhood…'”
Councilor Claire O’Hara agreed, saying that sometimes Greenville Road is, “like a racetrack.” This year, she noted, “With a mild winter, it didn’t stop much.”
Police Chief Tim Lafferty said the best way to address the problem in town is likely by issuing equipment violations.
“I can start out tomorrow with the traffic division and we will try to set up some sort of traffic enforcement unit just to deal with the noise,” Lafferty said Tuesday.
Flaherty said he hopes to put task force together to earmark areas, such as Victory Highway, for focused enforcement.
“We know there’s some popular spots,” he said.
For some residents, it seems an end to the nuisance is long overdue.
“They don’t care,” Flaherty said of those driving the loud vehicles. “They’re at the town common just gunning thier engines.”
“I can’t do it for another summer, and I know my neighbors feel the same way,” she said. “I don’t think we’d have to give out a lot of tickets before the biker clubs will all say ‘don’t go through North Smithfield, they’re enforcing this.'”
“Word gets around,” the chief said. “We can’t be everywhere, but we’ll try to do the best we can.”