Muffler mania: Dover looks to crack down on excessively loud vehicles

DOVER — It’s not an uncommon occurrence to hear rumbling motorcycles and other noisy vehicles roar through the streets of Dover, no matter what time of the day — or night — it may be.

That’s why Will Garfinkel, a member of the city’s Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee, is asking the city what it can do about it.

“You hear these noises all day and all night long and it truly is deteriorating the quality of life,” Mr. Garfinkel said. “For people out there, you try to sleep, you try to get up in the morning and all you hear is those big booms coming from motorcycles.

“As a matter of fact, this is a crime of disrespect to the people of Dover. We bought our homes, we pay our taxes, we keep our properties up and we shouldn’t be subjected to these sonic booms from these cars and trucks and pick-up trucks.”

Under current city law, Dover Police Chief Marvin Mailey says his department cannot effectively prosecute an offender for a loud-vehicle violation, because there is no Dover ordinance that specifically says what noise level is too high.

A dump truck travels on U.S. 13 in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

In fact, the matter is only addressed in the City Ordinance, Paragraph B, Subsection 7, that states: “Exhausts. The discharge into the open air of the exhaust of any steam engine, stationary internal combustion engine, motorboat, or motor vehicle, except through a muffler or other device which will effectively prevent loud or explosive noises therefrom.”

Noise a constant complaint

“It’s a constant complaint, not only by residents, by homeowners associations and by a lot of different people,” Chief Mailey said. “If this noise is coming through a muffler then an officer cannot take action.

“We don’t want to go to court to lose. We don’t want to write tickets just to write them. In my opinion, where we are right now, it’s just not defensible.”

Chief Mailey said he even visited the supervisor of the inspection lanes at the Department of Motor Vehicles to discuss the issue.

“(The supervisor) said to be honest with you, we haven’t touched the mufflers in seven years,” the chief said. “I said, ‘Why’s that?’ He said because we had people coming in here with two-, three-thousand dollar muffler systems that were failing inspections.

“They made a complaint to personnel at the Department of Motor Vehicle and shortly after that they stopped inspecting for it. He said, furthermore, I don’t know how you guys can write (a ticket) for it, because we’re not testing for it.”

Looking for a solution

Following a long discussion at last week’s Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee meeting, members voted unanimously for Chief Mailey to research a viable alternative in developing an excessive noise ordinance for vehicles over the next month.

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said, “I would like to move that we have the chief of police research a reasonable decibel indicator that would be proficient in prosecuting an affirmative offense charge for excessive noise.”

City Councilman Fred Neil said the ordinance needs to be well-written and enforceable.

“Let’s take a look at the law and see if we can give it some teeth that you can act upon,” he said.

Mr. Garfinkel said excessive noise emanating from vehicles seems to be getting worse and worse.

“You can sit at the Wawa (convenience store) at Kenton (Road) and Forrest (Avenue) and all day long, all night long, the noise is just unbearable,” he said. “I think that we really need to take a look at this because to me … they’re breeder crimes, because if you let people get away with this, they’re going to think they can get away with something else later on.

“So we really need to pay attention to these breeder crimes, these nuisance crimes.”

Nailing down the details

Chief Mailey has a solution in mind. He said he just needs to sit down with City Solicitor William Pepper to try and nail down all of the details.

“In my mind it would go something like this,” said Chief Mailey. “We see a motorcycle or car coming by and we think that it’s extremely loud, we’ll have to stop that vehicle on the probable cause of that noise violation.

“We’ll let them have that vehicle run, probably at idle because we can’t establish how fast that vehicle was going and we can’t ask them to rev in up to 8,500 (RPMs) to measure it.”

He added, “So you’re going to have to establish what level of RPM or what idle speed that vehicle can be tested and depending on what the (decibel) meter says, we issue a citation or not.”

The police department currently does not and has never had decibel meters.

Not so fast …

There were some members of city council who said there are more pressing matters for the police department to concentrate on rather than excessively loud vehicles.

“I just want to caution everybody,” City Council President Timothy Slavin said. “We’ve got some serious crime issues that we’re facing and, as a council, we send the message out to a 90-member uniformed force that loud noise is a priority.

“They’re going to do what we ask them to do and they’re going to enforce loud noise and every minute they spend enforcing that is one less minute they’re going to have enforcing heroin and major crimes that we’re facing. We need to understand that we only have a finite number of minutes of uniformed police on the street at any one time.”

Councilman Matt Lindell remained skeptical.

“I think it would be futile to send officers out there to enforce,” he said, of an excessively loud vehicle ordinance. “Even if you set a decibel level there’s still a reasonable doubt as far as how do you measure it one way or another. I think there’s a lot of wiggle room in there.”

Now it’s up to Chief Mailey and his staff to research and see what, if any, kind of solutions they can find to the problem — and get rid of that wiggle room.

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