In mid-May, 2022, the California state legislature passed a bill that would create a pilot “noise camera” program to target excessively loud motorcycles and cars. The bill now goes to Governor Gavin Newsom for his signature—and if he signs it into law, the program will officially go into effect on January 1, 2023. 

Under the language of SB-1079 as passed, a total of six yet-to-be-determined cities across California would implement a pilot program, using automated, so-called noise cameras to “capture vehicle noise levels that exceed the legal sound limit.” For those unfamiliar, the legal sound limits for cars and motorcycles in California have been in place for years. Inexplicably, they’re also different, with a limit of 95 decibels for cars and 80 for motorcycles built after 1985.  

The language of the bill (there's a link to the full text in our Sources) appears to put some protections into place to avoid overly targeting any one community, but it may still raise more questions and concerns than it answers. Here’s what we know, and what we don’t. 

What SB-1079 Says 

If signed into law, the pilot program will operate from January 1, 2023, through December 31, 2027, after which point it will be repealed. Additionally, the noise camera devices “shall be distributed equally across a participating city and shall not be disproportionately placed in a single area or areas.” Signs will also be placed around the noise cameras, warning motorists that they’re there. The cameras will take “clear photos” of vehicle license plates of offending vehicles as determined by the automated system. 

First violations won’t be penalized, but subsequent violations will be. However, any participating city must consider a violator’s ability to pay, as well as allow installment payments and/or deferments with proof of a person’s inability to pay in full. Penalty waivers will also be allowed for low-income vehicle owners found in violation. Additionally, all personal information gathered with regard to violations will only be used with regard to administration of this program, and photos will be destroyed after final resolution of violations.  

Additional stipulations spelled out in the bill discuss where revenues generated from these fines will go, which is apparently to a) program cost recovery, and b) “traffic calming measures,” such as bicycle lanes, roundabouts, chicanes, and so forth. Measures for annual independent sound calibration for the devices, reporting requirements by municipalities, and the fact that the program will officially be repealed as of January 1, 2028 are all clearly laid out in the text. 

Questions Remain

There’s no mention of how many noise cameras will be distributed across a given participating city, only that there will be six pilot cities that have yet to be determined. Additionally, while there’s a rule saying there should be signage to notify motorists about the noise monitoring devices, there’s no mention of what distance the signs will be from the devices.  

Accuracy of noise cameras is also a question, particularly since California has separate allowable noise levels for motorcycles versus cars. Additionally, since you can fit more motorcycles in a lane traveling together than cars, what happens if one bike is louder than the rest? Furthermore, what role will the distance of vehicles (and their sounds) from the noise cameras play? The weight of these penalties, as with most automated penalties, rests on the person being fined to disprove, rather than the administrators of the program.  

Finally, there’s a section that reads, “the Legislature … imposes a limitation on the public’s right of access to the meetings of public bodies or the writings of public officials and agencies within the meaning of Section 3 of Article I of the California Constitution. Pursuant to that constitutional provision, the Legislature makes the following findings to demonstrate the interest protected by this limitation and the need for protecting that interest: To protect the privacy interests of persons who are issued notices of violation under a sound-activated enforcement device program, the Legislature finds and declares that the records generated by a sound-activated enforcement device shall be confidential.” 

While privacy concerns of people being penalized by this system are valid, if the Legislature is truly concerned with fair enforcement of such a law, then certain demographic information (stripped of anything that could personally identify the people involved) should not be confidential. Instead, it should be recorded and made public—that is, if we’re assuming the most generous interpretation of intent (and not that it’s all about pure revenue extraction). 

What do you think? Let us know in the comments. 

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