26 April 2012 by Pelle Neroth
A trio of European parliament committees - environment, transport and internal market - is considering a piece of draft legislation presented by the European Commission last December to reduce noise levels in traffic. They will vote on it in June and the legislation could take effect in two stages, 2014 and 2017. The maximum noise level produced by new cars and vans would have to fall by four decibels, and that of new buses by three decibels. Since the scale is logarithmic, a three decibel drop is equivalent to halving vehicle noise.
But the impacts of quieter new cars may not be felt for another 15 years or more. The standards would not affected cars already on the road, and the sale non compliant noisy vehicles would not be restricted until 2019.
The cost of complying with the directive would mostly be borne by industry, according to a commission Working Paper. They would have to change their "engineering, development and testing" methods. A separate directive deals with tyre noise, and quieter tyres will be compulsory after 2016.
The estimated cost to the European motor industry could be up to 4 billion euros over 10 years. But the paper estimates substantial savings in health costs, and savings on noise abatement measures like sleeping policemen and noise barriers. It will also give a hard-to-measure improvement to Europeans' sense of well-being, it says.
As a 2008 World Health Organization (WHO) report illustrates, noise exposure leads to sleep disturbance and stress, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disorders. According to another report, by the European Environment Agency, 55% of Europeans living in towns with a population greater than 250,000 suffer noise levels in excess of 55 decibels, a WHO determined threshold value for greater risks to health.
Brussels has regulated on vehicle noise before.The most recent amendment to noise legislation in 1995 admittedly led to a steep drop in noise coming from cars as well as lorries. Unfortunately, the actual road traffic noise reductions have been much smaller. It is true that new cars are quieter, but this has been compensated by increases in the volumes of traffic. Cars are using wider tyres with different noise characteristics.
And the test conditions have not reflected actual realistic traffic situations. The new legislation will look at all noise sources from vehicles, from the air intake, to the power train and the exhaust. Test procedures will be made more realistic.
To some green groups, these proposed changes are not ambitious enough. Because the current proposals may not have an impact until the 2020s, environmental organisations are beginning to lobby the European parliament and commission to bring forward the dates of the changes to 2013 and 2015. They want new provisions, such as a legal requirement for car makers to provide consumers with noise emissions information at all points of sale.
The Transport & Environment green pressure group, for instance, suggests full information disclosure on noise emissions would empower the uptake of quieter vehicles. One suggestion is that local authorities could give preferential access to quieter vehicles at certain times of day, or reduce road user charges for quieter vehicles.
For its part, the car industry puts the blame on tyres, saying these cause the most noise pollution. Green groups counter that this may be true of free flow driving but it is not true in urban driving, where overall actual vehicle noise - from axles, engines, exhaust - is more relevant.
The car industry further argues that an "integrated approach" is needed, including better insulation by homeowners or further noise barriers. The T&E, in contrast, argues that "100 times more people can be protected from road noise if the same amount of money is spent on developing and producing quieter vehicles instead of on noise barriers".
One further potential benefit is a potential boost to property values, since roads in noisy areas tend to be less attractive to buyers.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 26 April 2012 10:10 AM General
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