What are noise cameras?

Can you get in trouble for having a car that is too loud? There are legal curbs on how noisy a vehicle is allowed to be, but until now there has been no systematic way of picking up on cars that break the law. New noise cameras are being developed to tackle the issue of noise pollution from cars.
A conviction for driving an illegally modified vehicle could make car insurance extremely hard to find. Insurance Factory offers convicted driver insurance that will give you a second chance to get back on the road.


What is a noise camera?

The country already has a network of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras that read number plates for traffic and law enforcement purposes. The cameras are currently used to check the speed of vehicles on the motorway, pick up uninsured or untaxed vehicles, identify stolen cars, or even track the movements of criminals. To find out more about how speed cameras work, check out our article on the subject.
Noise cameras are ANPR cameras fitted with noise detectors that monitor the sound emitted by a vehicle. A microphone picks up the sound of an approaching vehicle and if it is above a set noise limit, the ANPR camera will be triggered to take a photo and capture the number plate information.
These details can then be used by the police to identify a vehicle and penalise the driver, for example by requiring vehicle modifications to be changed or issuing a fixed penalty notice.

Are noise cameras in use in the UK?

The feasibility of using noise cameras in the UK was explored in a seven-month study, including trials in roadside locations. The findings of the study were published in August 2021.
Under the trials, cameras were tested in areas with known sound problems such as West Meon in Hampshire and the Marchwood Bypass in Southampton. The trials are intended to examine whether the cameras can pick up drivers revving their engines and driving in a dangerous way.
The results suggest that the cameras may be deployed in future, although there are some teething issues with usage of cameras in bad weather conditions, or detecting noise when two cars are travelling close together.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “The trial isn't intended to target law-abiding drivers but those who are flouting laws around noise. All vehicles must legally meet strict noise limits before they are allowed on the road. Once a vehicle is in service, exhausts and silencers must by law be maintained in good working order and not altered to increase noise.”

Kensington and Chelsea cameras

The streets of the borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London are home to many millionaires, with expensive taste in cars. The Knightsbridge area experienced a real problem with excessive vehicle noise produced by luxury cars such as Lamborghinis and Ferraris.
To address the problem, the local council installed ANPR sound cameras to pick up inconsiderate drivers. The authorities say traffic noise reaches around 126 dB on summer evenings – about the noise level of a rock concert.
Chelsea celebrity Anthea Turner has been vocal in calling for measures to tackle the noise pollution, calling the traffic noise “nightly torture.” Turner claims drivers use the area as a cut through and like to rev their engines, sound their horns, play loud music and travel too fast.
The cameras were triggered over 130 times in the first 11 days of usage, with many cars emitting over 100 dB – equivalent to a helicopter flying nearby. Drivers found to be in breach of the law are fined between £100 and £2,500, with repeat offenders risking the seizure of their vehicle.
The borough had previously used a Public Space Protection Order to authorise police to issue penalty noises to drivers causing excessive vehicle noise. However, with the police facing tight budget constraints, the resources were not always available to make this strategy effective.


Why is traffic noise controlled?

Being subjected to loud noise increases our stress levels, and in the longer term this can have health impacts. For example, a study found that people living near Frankfurt Airport in Germany had a 7% increased risk of stroke compared to people living in similar but quieter neighbourhoods. Another study of 25,000 cardiovascular deaths around Switzerland’s Zurich Airport found that people living nearby were more likely to die at night if planes were flying overhead.
Scientists think that loud traffic sounds might trigger the human fight-or-flight stress  response, even if we are asleep or do not register the noise. The response triggers a release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that can cause harm to our bodies over time and are associated with conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines recommend that noise levels should be around 30 dB or lower in bedrooms overnight, but more than 40% of the population of EU countries are subjected to night time traffic noise levels of 55 dB.
Traffic noise impacts vulnerable people the most. Older people, those with chronic illness and shift workers are all affected disproportionately, while people on lower incomes often have to accept housing closer to traffic and with poor sound insulation.
There is some evidence that living with noise pollution can impact children for life, causing poorer cognitive performance and impaired wellbeing. The issue was highlighted by a 2018 study from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study confirmed transport noise as a key contributor to heart disease risk factors and called for strategies to reduce noise pollution in urban areas.

The impact of the pandemic

The pandemic continues to shape many changes in everyday life. A lower tolerance for noise pollution may be just one more way that COVID-19 is changing our society. The reduced traffic volumes and empty streets of lockdown increased awareness of the issue of sound pollution and led to calls to reduce air and noise pollution in urban areas.
The reprieve from noise pollution may have led many communities to decide they do not want pre-pandemic high volumes of noise to return. Grassroots groups are forming to campaign for change, especially in areas where motorbike groups or antisocial drivers are an issue.


Why are vehicles noisy?

Most vehicle noise stems from the engine working and the tyres making contact with the road surface. Even a car in perfect working order makes sound as all the mechanical parts of the engine move and the tyres move over the ground.
In contrast to diesel and petrol vehicles, electric cars make much less noise because they do not have engines with so many moving parts. In fact, electric cars are sometimes so quiet that this is a safety issue as pedestrians do not hear the car approaching. Since 2019, electric cars have been required to feature a noise-emitting device to help address this issue. The device makes the sound of a traditional engine when the vehicle is reversing or going at a speed below 12mph.
Very often, when a vehicle suddenly starts making a noise it means that the engine is malfunctioning and should be inspected. For example, chugging or rattling could mean there is an issue with the exhaust, squealing or grinding when you use the brakes means the pads may be worn through, and a thudding noise suggests an issue with tyre alignment.
While drivers have a legal responsibility to ensure their vehicles are roadworthy, the type of noise targeted by the ANPR noise cameras is likely to be from drivers revving their engines aggressively, and/or drivers with cars that have been modified to make additional noise.

Modifying your vehicle exhaust

Many people like to make a bold statement with their vehicle. Removing the exhaust silencer can be one way to turn heads, combining some enlarged exhaust pipes with an enhanced sound system for maximum impact.
Making the exhaust of your motorbike or car louder is one of the more common vehicle modifications, but you need to know what the law says and how any changes will affect your car insurance.
The UK noise limit for exhausts is 74 decibels (dB). What kind of noise level is this? For comparison, a normal conversation is around 60 dB, heavy city traffic is around 85 dB, thunder or an ambulance is 120 dB and a jet taking off is 140 dB. The 74 dB vehicle limit is approximately the same volume as a flushing toilet.

What is the penalty for having a noisy car?

As the noise cameras use the ANPR system, penalties work in a similar way to speeding penalties. Find out what happens if you’re caught speeding from this article.
Under current laws, police have the authority to issue fixed penalty notices of around £50 for any vehicle making over 80 dB. The police can also order cars off the road until illegal modifications have been changed.
Being charged by the police for a modified car or any other road offence can cause lasting harm to your life. In addition to the inconvenience, risk to your career and the financial or other penalties, you may find car insurance much more expensive when you have a criminal record. Many insurers refuse to offer convicted driver cover at all – but thankfully, specialist insurers such as Insurance Factory offer specialist convicted driver policies to help you get back on the road.

What other car modifications are illegal?

Car modifications are things you do to your vehicle to change it from its original specification. This is often done to change the aesthetics of a vehicle or make it perform differently. Examples include tinted windows, neon lights, subwoofer sound systems, adding parts such as spoilers to the bodywork and lower suspension to make a car drive closer to the ground.
Many modifications are not categorically illegal, but it might depend on the extent of alteration. Tinted windows, for instance, are permitted on a vehicle but they must allow at least 70% of light through, or 75% on a front windscreen. With neon lights, these must not interfere with headlights or tail lights, they should not flash or be green so they will not be confused with emergency services. However, neon tubing is not illegal if fitted beneath a car so none of the tubing can be seen.

What is the impact of car modification on your motor insurance?

A question about vehicle modification is usually included when you apply for insurance. The term modification covers a wide range of different alterations to a vehicle - some will increase your premiums, others might result in a deduction.
For example, if you fit a spoiler to your vehicle, insurers might perceive this to increase risk of you being involved in an accident and will charge you more for insurance. Equally, if you install something expensive that might be a target for thieves, such as a costly sound system, this may also increase your premiums.
On the other hand, fitting a safety device such as a parking sensor will tell insurers you are less likely to damage your vehicle, and could result in a deduction. Having a tow bar could signal that you are likely to have a caravan or trailer attached at times, with the resulting change in driving style and speed. Modified vehicles can also be more expensive to repair.
Most car insurance policies require you to consult your insurer before modifying your vehicle, so always check before carrying out any changes. In a worst case scenario, modifying your vehicle could mean your insurance is invalidated, with serious financial consequences if you try to make a claim.

Reducing the cost of your car insurance

Having a modified vehicle is just one factor that will push up your car insurance. Motor insurance companies look at a range of different factors when pricing your premiums, including your age, geographic location, job role, the car you drive and so on.
Criminal history is also a key consideration. If you have a criminal record, you may find it impossible or expensive to secure car insurance until your record is spent. Convicted driver insurance is a possible solution, offering a specialist product that recognises this difficult position and bridging the gap until you can return to a mainstream insurer.
Why not get a quote from Insurance Factory for convicted driver insurance today?