Pine Nuts: The improbability of noise policing |

Pine Nuts: The improbability of noise policing

When a motorcycle causes a woman to drop $100 worth of groceries to cover her ears, well, I’m not a cop, but that’s noise pollution. To paraphrase a Supreme Court justice, “I know it when I hear it.” But who is going to enforce the law and ticket that motorcyclist? Nobody, because noise pollution laws as they are written are nearly impossible to enforce.

Nevada, for example, maintains that motorcycles traveling 35 mph or less may not be operated at a noise level above 82 decibels and motorcycles traveling more than 35 mph may not be operated at a noise level above 86 decibels. That’s for one motorcycle. Suppose 20 motorcycles come along and the decibel level shoots through the ionosphere? Is a cop going to ticket the entire pack? It would take a pretty brave cop.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has noise limits, for what they are worth. The agency’s rules limit motorcycles traveling less than or equal to 35 mph to 77 dBA when measured at 50 feet. For motorcycles traveling greater than 35 mph, 86 dBA when measured at 50 feet is the limit. Okay, try to determine that without straining your constitution.

But let’s take a look at the cigarette boat, that menace to lake serenity that causes songbirds to stop singing. The TRPA has a toothless law for them as well: “Certification by the manufacturer or by TRPA approved field test agent that the watercraft passes the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) test J34 or SAE-J34, Pass by Test, 82.0 dBA to be measured at 50 feet with the engine at 3,000 RPM” is the requirement. As my mother might like to say, were she still with us, “Oh, please.”

Loud sound is dangerous even when it is not painful. William H. Stewart, former U.S. Surgeon General has stated, “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience. Noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.”

Personally, I can appreciate the sound that a good bike makes when you’re going through the gears, as I used to ride a 650 BSA. And I understand testosterone rush is a part of the package, but this is a package that should not be brought into the Lake Tahoe Basin.

When hosting the Calaveras Frog Jump in Angels Camp a few years ago, I was asked by several groups of motorcyclists to take pictures with them as Mark Twain. We took so many pictures I was inspired to write a sequel, “The Celebrated Jumping Hog of Calaveras County.” My favorite jacket read, “Crippled Old Bastards on Bikes.”

My idea is this: We create an app of a Harley Davidson Fat Boy going through the gears without a muffler, and provide it at no cost to bikers coast to coast. When they go to Sturgis they can remove their mufflers and raise the dead if they like, but then the mufflers go back on, the Fat Boy app comes back out, and all is quiet in the basin.

As for the cigarette boat, muffle it dude, you’re making more adversaries than friends.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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