Aaron Widmar
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Illegally Loud: Laws Limiting Car Stereo Volume

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Photo: The News Wheel

Many people have better sound systems in their cars than in their own homes. The quality of stereos available in vehicles — factory-installed or aftermarket — rivals many home theater systems. So it’s a literal blast to crank up the volume and have a mobile concert in your car.

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Loud car stereos are a major problem, though. As audio systems become advanced and affordable, the noise pollution in quiet neighborhoods increases. And that’s dangerous for all drivers.

It begs the question, “Is it illegal to have your car stereo volume up too high?”

Is it illegal to blast your car stereo loud?

There isn’t a current federal law against loud car stereos, but a lot of states and cities have ordinances prohibiting the volume from exceeding certain decibels or at certain times of the day. Many legislators and residents have taken legal action against loud vehicles — what they refer to as “boom cars.”

A 2002 U.S. Department of Justice report titled “Loud Car Stereos” states the following:

“Most jurisdictions have some form of noise law that regulates loud car stereos. Police are concerned about loud car stereos for two main reasons: (1) they annoy some people; and (2) they inhibit some drivers’ ability to hear emergency signals on the road … In most jurisdictions, the problem of loud car stereos falls to the police to address, primarily because enforcement carries the risk of violent confrontation.”

In the report, the U.S. D.O.J. presented guidelines to mitigate boom cars, including establishing and enforcing noise limits, increasing penalties for infractions, and impounding loud cars.

Since then, more laws arose that specified limitations on car stereo volume. Some edicts determine that by decibels; others gauge infractions by how far away the car can be heard (e.g., in Georgia, if your car can be heard 100 feet away, it’s deemed too loud).

If you’re unsure what the laws are in your town or one you’re driving through, CarAudioBook.com shares a list of suggested practices to minimize the chance you’ll be ticketed, such as keeping the windows rolled up, not blasting the stereo after 8 p.m., and avoiding music with offensive lyrics.

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