Whyte Avenue dumb ass (hot ass coming soon, I promise)

With the news that the City of Edmonton is cracking down on loud motorcycles and rice rockets, some coworkers asked me about what the noise bylaw actually says. After the computers came back online today, I got them their answers. Sort of. First let's skip to the end:

(1) If a motor vehicle is the cause of any sound that contravenes a provision of this bylaw the owner of that motor vehicle is liable for the contravention.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if the owner, on a balance of probabilities, satisfies the court that, at the time the motor vehicle was involved in the contravention, the owner was not present in the motor vehicle and no other person was operating the motor vehicle with the owner’s express or implied consent.
Basically we've established that it is this law pertaining to loud cars and bikes. The only question is what the law actually says about sound. Since the crackdown was on Whyte Ave, and not on 83rd ave, we must look at the non-residential neighbourhood section:
(1) A person shall not cause or permit any sound exceeding 75 dB(A), as measured at the property line of a property zoned for use other than residential, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
(2) A person shall not cause or permit property they own or occupy to be used so that any sound coming from the property exceeds 75 dB(A), as measured at the property line of a property zoned for use other than residential between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
(3) This section does not apply to sounds up to:
(a) 80 dB(A) lasting for a total period of time not exceeding two hours in any one day; or
(b) 85 dB(A) lasting for a total period of time not exceeding one hour in any one day.
Okay, now things get a little confusing: first off, the measurement is to be taken at the property line of the local businesses. Specifically, this means on the far edge of the sidewalk. This is not what was happening: the police officers were standing directly behind the vehicle and instructing the driver to rev up. Between 7am and 10pm (when the crackdown was taking place) you cannot exceed 75dB (they call it dB(A) which we shall get to later). Now for periods less than two hours (cumulative, not consecutive) you may exceed 75dB but not past 80dB, and for periods less than 60 minutes (cumulative, not consecutive) you may exceed 80dB but may never exceed 85dB. So if you're driving up and down Whyte Ave for three hours, you can only hit 75dB. If you're only cruising down the street in your 6-4 for an hour, you can go up to 85dB without running afoul of the noise bylaw.

Now remember I said that the cops were located wrong when listening to the sound. Now if the measurement is taken in the wrong place, that's okay. Every time you double the measuring distance, the decibel count goes down by 6. So if the property line is, say, 2 metres from your bike and the cop measures 88dB standing a metre away, you are not in violation of the law. Sounds good, eh?

Its at this point when clever readers may notice something odd in my choice of words. "the cops were located wrong when listening to the sound" - "the police officers were standing directly behind the vehicle and instructing the driver to rev up." Notice that I wasn't talking about any measurements. That's because the police officers weren't measuring anything. If the corrupt EPS cop says you're too loud, you're too loud. The Hell's Angel with a couple of buddies and a 119dB screamer is magically "not too loud". Joe KnownCopHater and his 28dB Honda Insight hybrid just got themselves a big fat noise violation.

Now, doesn't the law specify something about measurements? Yes, in fact, it says two things. Firstly it states:
In this Part:
(a) “dB(A)” means the sound pressure measured in decibels using the “A” weighted scale of a sound level meter set to fast response;
(b) “decibel” means a unit for expressing the relative intensity of sounds on a scale from zero for the average least perceptible sound to approximately 130 for the average pain level;
(c) “holiday” means January 1st, Alberta Family Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, July 1st, the first Monday in August, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, November 11th, and December 25th of every year;
(d) “noise” means any sound that is reasonably likely to disturb the peace of others;
(e) “sound level meter” means a device used to measure sound pressure which meets the International Electro-Technical Commission Standard No. 123 or the British Standard No. 3539 Part l, or the U.S.A. Standard S1.4-1961.
It helpfully explains the dB(A) measurement standard which is to be followed, and even quotes the relevant quality standards for the sound meter. Wow, that's pretty good...er, but doesn't that mean that the absence of this fancy sound level meter means none of these tickets add up?

Ohh, wait, I told you there are two parts. Here's the second: (all emphasis mine)
(1) A person shall not cause or permit any noise that disturbs the peace of another individual.
(2) A person shall not cause or permit property they own or occupy to be used so that noise from the property disturbs the peace of any other individual.
(3) A person may be found guilty of a contravention of this section whether or not the decibel level:
(a) is measured; or
(b) if measured, exceeds any limit prescribed by this bylaw.
Well isn't that a hole big enough to drive a (very very quiet) Mac Truck through?

Heaven forbid the City of Edmonton should have any sort of actual objective standard in their laws. After all, how do you know if your motorcycle or 1985 GMC Sierra is too loud and needs to be quieter to be operated on city streets? Why, you'd get a sound test, and they'd say not to worry, your engine clocks in at a perfectly reasonable 71dB(A) at a distance of one metre. Therefore you will always be below 75dB(A) and therefore within the legal limits in nonresidential areas of daylight hours. Oh, but wait, when it comes time for the testing phase, the cop tells you your engine is "too loud". How loud? "Too loud".

In other words, if the cops are told to crack down on at least 400 people per day, and they find themselves with only 35 tickets at the halfway point, you the unfortunate bugger who happens to be driving a loud but legal machine are gonna get a ticket. Once you start throwing in "anybody who disturbs the peace of another individual" crap, you end up with a bad law that will merely be the heavy hand of any corrupt Edmonton cop with an axe to grind. If he's a racist, don't be surprised when a bunch of black guys start discovering that their pimped rides aren't as quiet as they had thought. If he's mad at his wife, you'd be surprised how many loud soccer-mom-owned minivans there are in this town.

Ultimately this creates far too much grey area that I guarantee you will be part of successful efforts to fight these tickets. Had EPS only bothered to grab themselves a S1.4-1961 compliant sound meter reader and stand on the sidewalk while the bikers revved their engines, they could have indicated actual information on these tickets and at the very least let people know where they failed.

Probably the most disgusting thing about this bylaw is that you can be ticketed even when you are proved to be following the law. Where else in our legal system could they get away with deciding after the fact that you would be charged as in violation of a law you hadn't violated? What would the courts look like in this bizzaro-world the City of Edmonton seems to operate in? "You're honour, we find the defendant 'not guilty' of all charges." "Good, good. Bailiff, lock this man away, I sentence you to six years in prison."

Update, 11:58pm: It may be invaluable here to say that I don't actually own a motorcycle, and actually don't like the noise from them. I maintain that loud motorcycles are exclusively owned by ugly men with small penises, and that its a cheap "look at me" stunt. If they rounded up all motorcycles and put irreversible 55dB limiters on it, I guarantee you that 80% of motorcycle riders would never jump on their hog again. As we noted to coworkers who follow the "loud pipes save lives" principle, if they really wanted drivers to see them they could wear safety vests while they rode with far greater results. Meanwhile, the safety argument holds no water with me: my hog is the quietest thing on the road [or it would be, if you got those shitty squeaky brakes replaced on it -ed]. I don't even wear a helmet, and somehow without letting every driver/pedestrian/corpse within 600 yards hear my precise location I manage to survive the mean streets.

Update, June 30 2010, 5:18pm: Readers visiting from the Harley Davidson HD Forum (and/or others!) might be interested in knowing a "tough new law" has been passed about noisy motorcycles that is actually weaker. As well, feel free to try out Third Edge of the Sword's "Loud Pipes Save Lives" challenge!