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The first noise standards for vehicles were introduced in 1970 and have undergone relatively few revisions since then. The last revision came 18 years ago, in 1996, and set today’s maximum limit at 74 decibels, an outdated level which is much above that of most vehicles today. With evidence that 44% of EU citizens are exposed to noise levels that pose a serious risk to health, T&E has campaigned over several years for limits that provide an incentive for the automotive industry to develop quieter vehicles.
In December 2011, the Commission proposed a phased approach to reduce the current limit by 3.4 decibels by 2021. T&E said this was too little as it did not provide an incentive for noise-reduction technology.
The carmakers’ lobbying against this proposal was vehement, while the European Parliament’s rapporteur, Miroslav Ouzky, was sharply criticised over his role. He proposed a compromise amendment that was heavily criticised for being soft on carmakers, and it later became clear the amendment had been largely written by an official from the German luxury car company Porsche.
The final deal agreed proposes a reduction of 2.6 decibels to be fully in force by 2027. It still has to be approved by MEPs in the Parliament’s environment committee.
T&E policy officer for vehicle noise Cécile Toubeau said: ‘Noise is the big neglected issue in EU transport, despite it being linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year in Europe. This huge delay in better vehicle noise standards is disgraceful, especially when nearly a quarter of cars and a third of lorries tested over the last five years already meet the standards to be implemented by 2027.’
An independent report for the Irish presidency of the EU found that the Commission’s proposal would have reduced the costs of noise to society by around €190 billion and cost carmakers €7bn, while the proposal that has been agreed in the three-way deal will bring only €123bn in reduced costs to society and cost the carmakers €5.7bn. In other words, to save the car industry €1.3bn, society will miss out on €67bn worth of benefits.
Toubeau added: ‘Because the new standard will only apply to all new vehicles sold from 2027, and the European car fleet takes 15 years to renew itself, it means in effect a 30-year delay until we hear any difference on the roads. We call on the environment committee to reject this proposal outright.’