Traffic

Traffic Q&A: Why aren’t more motorcycle riders cited for exhaust noise?

Two Washington statutes govern vehicle excessive exhaust noise, including one that addresses motorcycle exhausts specifically.
Two Washington statutes govern vehicle excessive exhaust noise, including one that addresses motorcycle exhausts specifically. MCT file, 2009

Q: I know there are regulations in Washington State regarding motorcycle exhaust noise, but I’m not sure what they mean and if they are enforced at all. There are a lot of very loud bikes around, and they are very annoying. What’s the story? – Curt L., Tacoma

A: Curt has hit on a familiar theme among readers of the Traffic Q&A, who seem as fed up with loud motorcycles as your humble scribe is with music blasting from loud car stereos.

This from Robert L., also of T-town:

“Sitting at a sidewalk restaurant or coffee shop and ear-blasting bikes roar by, it’s unbelievable. Going on a hike in the Cascades, and you can hear these things roaring through the mountains as they struggle to climb the passes, terrible.

“Why are Harley Davidson riders allowed to break excessive noise laws apparently immune from citation?”

The short answer is they are not.

Two state laws govern excessive exhaust noise, including RCW 46.37.537, which addresses motorcycle exhausts specifically. It reads:

“No person shall modify the exhaust system of a motorcycle in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the engine of such vehicle above that emitted by the muffler originally installed on the vehicle, and it shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motorcycle not equipped as required by this section, or which has been amplified as prohibited by this section.”

RCW 46.37.390 addresses vehicle mufflers in general. Section 3 states in part:

“No person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the engine of such a vehicle above that emitted by the muffler originally installed on the vehicle …”

So making motorcycles, or any car or truck, louder than it was when manufactured is illegal in the Evergreen State.

So what about enforcement?

For that, we went to Sgt. James Prouty of the Washington State Patrol.

He delved into the State Patrol archives and uncovered this bit of information: In 2015, state troopers stopped 3,214 drivers statewide who they suspected were violating exhaust-noise laws.

Some of them, presumably, were driving motorcycles.

“We are definitely out there addressing this issue,” Prouty told us.

The sergeant was unable to say how many citations the patrol handed out.

In many instances, he said, troopers simply inform drivers that their vehicles are illegally modified and need to be brought into compliance with the law.

Many riders plead ignorance, Prouty said, and point out that a muffler or motorcycle shop installed the new tail pipes for them.

“They think that makes them legal, but they’re not,” he said. “Ultimately, the owner is responsible for the alterations to their vehicles.”

With great noise comes great responsibility, and presumably a ticket for repeat offenders.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644

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