Two lessons from Ohio, where windows stay open

Union Leader Staff

MANCHESTER — Two Ohio cities have cracked down on street noise, with one city, Cleveland, making it illegal for drivers to play music that is plainly audible anywhere outside the automobile. The effort in Lorain, a city of 68,000 in northeast Ohio, has been successful, according to one city official, who said he lives on a busy street and sleeps with his windows open.

“It’s had a dramatic effect,” said Mark Provenza, legal counsel for the city. Two years ago, noise from loud car stereos was so bad that more than 2,000 city residents signed a petition demanding action. Provenza drafted a new city ordinance, which junked the idea of decibel measurements and prohibited noise that could be plainly audible 50 feet from the source.

Police have aggressively enforced the ordinance, said Provenza, who acknowledges that noise levels do rise in the summer . Provenza said the ordinance calls for heavy fines — $350 on first offense. Also, police confiscate stereos that belong to repeat offenders, and media have publicized court officers taking sledge hammers to the confiscated stereos.

“The first amendment right only goes so far. You don’t have the right to be disorderly,” Provenza said. The Lorain ordinance does not go as far as one in Cleveland, which prohibits noise or music that is loud enough to be plainly audible outside the vehicle. Cleveland police Lt. Wayne Drummond said officers pull over errant vehicles when they are in between calls. “We try to address quality of life issues, and this is one of them,” Drummond said.

Like Lorain, Manchester’s ordinance prohibits noise that is plainly audible 50 feet from the source. The prohibition runs from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The Union Leader received 103 responses since Friday in its unscientific survey into street noise.

On average, respondents say the problem of street noise ranks 8.1 on a scale of 1 to 10, a number consistent with previous compilations. Loud motorcycles were the biggest complaint, followed by booming car stereos. Other bothersome noises included airplanes, taxi horns and barking dogs. North Country resident Jim Borgman said he moved out of Nashua because of noise and traffic.

“Our society, at the individual level, becomes ever more selfish and self centered,” Borgman wrote. Borgman and others encouraged police to crack down on excessive noise. Gorham resident Claude Pigeon noted that major crime went down in New York City when police concentrated on petty crimes. “When you sweat the small stuff, the big stuff will take care of itself,” he wrote. Motorcyclists and others said the issue is overblown. Laconia resident Kevin Arruda said overzealous complaining will lead to “unbalanced, ridiculous laws” that will prohibit any type of aftermarket exhaust.

“As far as the loud stereos go, that’s too bad,” he wrote. “You know when you moved into an apartment on a main road that there was going to be noise. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have lived there. I know plenty of people who don’t mind street noise (because they create it themselves) and would be perfectly happy living on a main road. On the other hand, I know many people who HATE street noise, and live in rural neighborhoods. It is common sense.”

Steve Drouin of Manchester said loud pipes save lives. “I am an avid motorcycle rider and people just don’t see us,” Drouin wrote. But Ed in Salem said loud pipes can scare and distract drivers, causing accidents.

“Learning how to ride with the proper gear and respect for other drivers,” Ed wrote, “is the best way to be safe.”