Motorcycle Noise Pollution

You enjoy a breathtaking view of a scenic area in Pennsylvania. Suddenly, an ear-splitting


from a motorcycle a mile away and closing aurally-assaults the viewer.

A business works diligently to rebuild after the pandemic, when (for the 16th time today)


from yet-another-illegal-motorcycle suppresses any conversation at the cafe tables and causes patrons to wince in pain.

Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania’s scenic areas and rebuilding communities, this is not a rare occurrence. The number of motorcycles in Pennsylvania exploded over the past 20 years as did the deafening (and unnecessary) noise from illegal exhausts.

Notably both Pennsylvania statutory law, 75 PaC.S. § 4523, and Pennsylvania Vehicle Inspections Regulations, Section 175.152 (motorcycles) prohibit loud motorcycles. Pennsylvania Vehicle Inspections Regulations, Section 175.152 (motorcycles), for example, plainly prohibit modifying exhaust systems–

“The exhaust system of a motorcycle may not be modified in a manner which will amplify or increase noise emitted by the motor of the [motorcycle]….”

Furthermore, the motorcycle must have a fully working exhaust system to avoid rejection (failure) during vehicle inspection. Section 175.152 (NOTE: Similar language exists for diesel trucks, pickup trucks, and cars–Pennsylvania Vehicle Inspections Regulations, Section 175.75 (cars and trucks)).

So, why so many illegal motorcycles if they fail inspection? Now, the gaping loophole. The motorcycle can be pulled-over while driving to the vehicle inspection station for a motor vehicle violation based on Section 175.152 and 75 Pa.C.S. § 4523. Yet, the same motorcycle can then drive into the inspection station, receive inspection, and drive out with a valid inspection sticker. The motorcycle can then be pulled-over seconds after leaving the inspection station based on Section 175.152 and 75 Pa.C.S. § 4523. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

The loophole arises due to defective drafting in the vehicle inspection procedures. During safety inspection, section 175.152 cross-references Pennsylvania Vehicle Inspections Regulations, Section 175.160 (a similar loophole exists for cars and trucks at 175.80).  Section 175.160 specifies the inspection procedure required of the licensed inspector with extraordinary detail–down to counting the number of flashes of a turn signal lamp. That means, Section 175.160 outlines the checklist the inspector must rotely follow. Yet, look at Section 175.160(c)(5):

(5) Inspect the exhaust system and 
REJECT IF one or more of the following apply:
  (i) The vehicle has no muffler or muffler has external repair.
  (ii) There are loose or leaking joints.
  (iii) There are holes, cracks or leaking seams in exhaust system.
  (iv) There is a muffler cutout or similar device.
  (v) Part of the exhaust system passes through the occupant compartment.
  (vi) The elements are not securely fastened with proper clamps and hangers.
  (vii) The exposed exhaust system does not have
 an adequate heat shield or protective system or is not 
located to prevent contact with riders.

The inspection procedure regulations, despite plain statutory law and despite regulations, provide no ability to REJECT if the exhaust is modified or fails to suppress noise. Furthermore, the road test (Section 175.160(d)) does not require observing for unusual noise, increased noise, or other illegal attributes easily detected during a road test.

These outdated (and perhaps unconstitutional) Pennsylvania regulations on motorcycle noise arose in a very different time when few motorcycles appeared on Pennsylvania roads. Twenty years later in 1999, Pennsylvania already mushroomed to 195,970 registered motorcycles. Just ten years after that, the number of motorcycles exploded  to 393,625 ! In 2018, Pennsylvania still had  374,300 . When considering motorcycles in contiguous states, communities face potential motorcycle assault from approximately 1.2 million motorcycles. While no systematic studies exist showing the number of illegal motorcycles (e.g., with illegally modified exhausts), anecdotal observations suggest at least 50-60% are illegal.

And thus the tsunami of complaints. Motorcycle noise results in economic losses for business, disrupts communities, violates  private property, pollutes natural areas, and assaults patrons of parks. Some motorcycles operate an astounding 4X to 32X the excessive legal limits for motorcycle noise set back in the 1970s. (Think of this: if motorcycles were speeding at 4x to 32X legal limits, police would cite them without question.)

The loopholes need to be plugged immediately. The Pennsylvania vehicle inspection standards promulgated by the DMV facially and as-applied fail to implement the mandatory and controlling statutory provisions under Pennsylvania law. Compare 75 Pa.C.S. § 4523 and Section 175.160. Fixing the loophole is straight-forward: 1) require inspection to observe the mandatory, original EPA sticker and REJECT if not found or if not intact, 2) require inspection to REJECT if any evidence that the muffler is modified to increase sound, and 3) require inspection to REJECT if the motorcycle emits sound, evidencing failure to maintain an exhaust in good working order to suppress sound, during the road test.