What Is the Legal Noise Limit for Cars?

mariam-abu-hussein
Mariam Abu HusseinLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 15th January 2024

Noisy exhausts and loud engine revving can seriously disturb your peace, especially late at night or in the early hours of the morning. What's more, high levels of vehicle noise have been linked to various human health issues, especially in urban environments.

legal-noise-limits-for-cars

The good news is there are tightly controlled legal noise limits for cars that aim to maintain a reasonable noise level from vehicles. So, if you're feeling helpless and frustrated by noisy cars, there are steps you can take to address the issue. In this article we'll cover:

  • The legislation around loud exhausts and noise limits for cars in the UK;

  • How to report a car with loud exhaust;

  • What your options are if it's the same car causing the disturbance repeatedly;

  • The rules around 'car meets';

  • Potential penalties and consequences of having a loud exhaust.

The legal sound limit for new cars is 72 decibels (dB), set to decrease to 68dB from 2026.

Noise regulation for cars was first introduced back in 1929 and is currently governed by the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use Regulations) 1986. As can be seen from the forthcoming reduction in the noise limit for new cars, lawmakers are keen on decreasing noise levels.

That being said, despite regulations, not everyone sticks to the law. Motorists still rev engines illegally and make unauthorised modifications to their exhausts, causing disturbances.

All vehicle tyres have a legal noise rating in the UK, this has been in place since 2012. From November 2012, all tyres have to be graded and labelled to show how much noise they make. 

The limits for acceptable tyre noise are set out in Regulation No 117 of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). 

They are set by width:

Width of tyre section

Permitted sound dB(A)

<145

72

145-165

73

165-185

74

185-215

75

>215

76

What is the law on modified exhaust systems?

Modifying an exhaust after it has been approved as meeting environmental and safety standards is illegal. Despite this, however, some people may still modify their exhausts to intentionally create more noise.

Fortunately, the police can take action if an exhaust doesn't function as it should or if it has been illegally modified to produce excessive noise.

What are the noise limits for roads?

There is no specific legal limit for road noise. However, noise levels should be considered by local authorities when they are planning new roads or developments near existing roads.

If noise from a new road exceeds certain levels, homeowners can in the first instance, contact the highway authority. In some cases, there may be an option available to get sound insulation.

Further to this, when a new road is built it often involves the compulsory purchase of land. If this affects you with increased road noise, you may be able to claim compensation. Alternatively, if the value of your property decreases due to road noise from a new or altered road, you may also be able to apply for compensation.

What is the law on loud exhausts?

As mentioned, it is illegal in the UK to modify an exhaust to make it noisier after it has been type-approved. The police can issue on-the-spot fines of £50 for these kinds of offences, or they may remove offending vehicles from the road until the non-compliant exhaust is corrected.

In April 2022, the UK government also launched a trial for innovative noise cameras to tackle loud engines and exhausts. £300,000 has been invested in this trial, reflecting the government's ambition to address noise issues, with a particular focus on eliminating disruptive behaviour from 'boy racers.'

These noise cameras can automatically detect when noise limits are exceeded, recording number plates to issue immediate fines. It is expected that these cameras will become as common as speed cameras on UK roads in the future, contributing to the ongoing effort to curb excessive noise from vehicles, especially considering strong public support for this kind of initiative.

How is car noise measured?

Vehicles older than three years in the UK must pass an annual MOT test to ensure they are roadworthy. The MOT test includes a visual inspection of the exhaust system for defects, with a focus on safety. If a vehicle fails the MOT, it cannot be driven on public roads until identified defects, including those related to excessive noise, are corrected. The test also assesses the effectiveness of the silencer in reducing exhaust noise to an average level for the vehicle.

Other tests for measuring noise levels in road vehicles include using both acceleration and constant speed test methods. The tests are designed to replicate typical urban conditions, and specific criteria for equipment placement, measurements, and environmental conditions are specified in the standard.

How to report a noisy car

Depending on which of the following four scenarios you are faced with, there are different ways to report noisy vehicles.

If it's your neighbour

Whether a noisy neighbour wakes you up in the early morning as they head off to work, or return late at night when you’re tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle – the best approach is to broach the subject civilly. 

Try to speak to your neighbour politely and without using emotional language. State the facts, for example when you are woken by loud vehicle noises and the impact this has on your life.

Don’t make it personal, try not to question their character or assume that they know that they are making noise and that it is unacceptable. They may not be aware that their car is making noise and if you ask politely they will be able to take action to reduce the noise, for example not revving the car in the driveway or changing the settings to minimise noise until they are out of the neighbourhood.

However, if the issue persists, your best bet is to contact the police or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVLA) who can use enforcement powers under the Motor Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations.

You can also contact your local council to make a noise complaint. They can take action under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Consider contacting the authorities as a last resort, as this can sour relations with your neighbour. If you feel uncomfortable confronting a neighbour you could team up with other neighbours that are affected and work together as a group. Also, your close neighbours will be able to confirm whether they are also affected by the noise, legitimising your concerns.

Lots of different vehicles

If lots of different vehicles make noise that disturbs you, or you can’t identify any specific vehicles that are the problem, you may want to start a noise log.

By noting down the kind of noise, when it happens, and how it disturbs you, a pattern can be established which can help you or the authorities identify the culprits

Other forms of evidence can be helpful too, you may want to consider documenting the noise through photos and videos. You can also ask your neighbours to help, this will add weight to your complaints and by documenting footage from multiple angles you or your neighbours might pick something up that the other would miss.

You might also think about buying a speed camera. However, recordings cannot be entered as official evidence as you are not trained as a speed camera operative and a speed camera bought online is not subject to the same rigorous testing as official speed cameras.

The same vehicle all the time

If you can identify the same driver or drivers from your neighbourhood regularly revving their engine or driving too loudly you should log their number plate and the times at which they make too much noise.

You can then contact the authorities, and perhaps the same drivers have been reported by neighbours on nearby streets, strengthening your claims.

Car meets

When car lovers meet up to admire each other’s vehicle and share their passion there’s typically no harm done. However, car meets sometimes have a much darker reputation. 

Some car meets encourage engine revving, racing and drifting, doughnuts, J-turns and Scandinavian flicks (we’re not sure what these are either – presumably not a form of Scandinavian noir). When any of the previous occurs you can report them to the police who should attend or make a record of the distutbance.

Do MOTs factor in car noise?

While all cars have to pass an MOT test every year after they are three years old, MOT testers can use their judgment when determining whether the noise generated by a car (under the bonnet and from exhaust silencers) is “unreasonably above the noise level you’d expect from a similar vehicle with a standard silencer in average condition”.

This is dictated by the MOT inspection manual, under the section 8 nuisance category. This is where requirements for noise, emissions, leaks and lighting are laid out.

When a car is above ‘unreasonable noise levels’, it will fail its MOT. However, there is no objective test carried out by testers, whether a car passes or fails is at their discretion.

What can be done about loud cars?

When you report noisy cars to the authorities they will investigate to determine if your claims are accurate.

If cars are speeding, or their exhausts are over the legal decibel limit, they can hand out immediate fines.

Cars with nonconforming exhausts can also be taken off the road until they are fixed.

What are the penalties for loud cars and exhaust? 

We’ve summarised the range of penalties for loud cars and exhausts below:

  • The police can hand out £50 fines for exhausts that don’t meet legal limits;

  • Vehicles can be taken off the road until noisy exhausts are replaced;

  • Verbal police warning.

Need help dealing with noisy motorists?

We know how difficult and distressing it can be to deal with noisy drivers. Our expert solicitors have helped many people bring peace to their neighbourhoods by dealing with those who break the law.

There’s no need to put up with noise pollution due to inconsiderate drivers.

For help and advice relating to disputes with neighbours, whether over noisy cars shared driveways, or a noisy road by your home, contact us today for a free case assessment and find out how our solicitors can help you.

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