City Council Meeting - FINAL

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Meeting Date: 06/01/2021  
From: Frank Higgins, Police Lieutenant

Consideration and Possible Direction: Options for a petition to address intentional noise pollution.
No formal action required, information only.
In October of 2019, a Flagstaff resident emailed the Mayor and Council to express his concerns about unnecessary noise pollution. The resident specifically pointed out a concern about vehicles equipped with “intentionally loud automobile mufflers” and went on to say “I can't count the number of times that I have been assaulted by blasts of noise from cars spewing their deep and threatening engine vibrato.  Their abuse can be heard, even felt, from blocks away”.
This email was followed up by a petition to the Flagstaff City Council containing 29 signatures titled “Intentional Noise Pollution”. This petition requested the city council consider the effects of noise pollution on the quality of life in Flagstaff. It asks the council to address the unnecessary noise created when drivers intentionally modify a vehicle for the sole purpose of increasing their noise footprint.
Key Considerations:
There is currently a state law addressing this issue presented by the petition:
ARS § 28-955. Mufflers; noise and air pollution prevention; emissions control devices; civil penalty; exception
A. A motor vehicle shall be equipped at all times with a muffler that is in good working order and that is in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise.
B. A person shall not use a muffler cutout, bypass or similar device on a motor vehicle on a highway.
C. The engine and power mechanism of a motor vehicle shall be equipped and adjusted to prevent the escape of excessive fumes or smoke.
D. Beginning with motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines of the 1968 model year, motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines shall be equipped with emissions control devices that meet the standards established by the director of environmental quality.
E. A person who violates this section is subject to a civil penalty of at least one hundred dollars.
F. This section does not apply to an electrically powered motor vehicle. 

This statute provides the ability to enforce this law against loud vehicles but is very subjective because no upper noise limit (in decibels) has been defined within the statute. Enforcement would be at the officer’s discretion and ability to articulate why the vehicle is in violation of the statute.

This type of traffic stop would be a low priority for officers conducting proactive traffic enforcement. While loud exhaust is a nuisance, it is not a causal factor in traffic accidents. Our officers are encouraged to focus their traffic enforcement at frequent collision locations while looking for moving violations that contribute to the cause of accidents. The main purpose of traffic enforcement has always been to reduce the number of collisions to protect the public from harm. Police leadership has asked officers to focus their proactive activity to address life safety issues as opposed to nuisance issues.

In looking through ordinances enacted in other jurisdictions, the trend is to introduce an ordinance which addresses all sources of nuisance noise instead of focusing on a single source. I have attached two ordinances from the City of Tempe and the Town of Gilbert. Both ordinances have language indicating maximum acceptable noise levels for various activities and locations, including vehicle noise, which can be measured with the appropriate equipment.

Another consideration would be who to task with enforcement of a noise ordinance; it can be enforced by personnel in code enforcement or the police department. Both divisions would be able to enforce a nuisance noise ordinance approved by the council.

Community Benefits and Considerations:
Citizens of Flagstaff would be afforded a legal pathway to pursue a complaint against any entity creating loud nuisance noise at a level that detracts from their quality of life within the Flagstaff community.
Financial Implications:
If the council decides to move forward with creation of an ordinance to address noise issues in the city, there would be a need to purchase the proper sound level meters necessary for enforcement. In addition, enforcement personnel will need to attend the necessary training to become certified in its use. Certification, and continued recertification, in the use of a class 1 decibel meter would be necessary for the officer, or code enforcement officer, to testify in court.
The City would have to purchase one or more Class 1 sound level meters. Class 1 sound level meters cost several hundred dollars each. Each sound level meter would need to be calibrated on a regular basis according to the manufacturer’s specifications. This could create an additional ongoing cost.
Each person operating the sound level meter for enforcement would need to receive initial training/certification, and continued recertification, prior to its use. Currently, a five day Community Noise Enforcement Certification Course is offered by Rutgers at the Rutgers Noise Technical Assistance Center (RNTAC). This training is offered in a Webex (online) format. The cost for attending the certification training is $625. The recertification class, which is required every 24 months, is $325.
Additional information can be found at:
Options and Alternatives: 
  1. Create a nuisance noise ordinance to address the petitioner’s concerns.
  2. Continue to enforce loud vehicle violations with the existing state law.
  • City of Tempe noise ordinance
  • Town of Gilbert noise ordinance
Tempe Noise Ordinance
Gilbert Noise Ordinance


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