Vehicle noise

Traffic noise has a major impact on human health. Yet it could easily be halved, with existing technology, if more stringent limits were adopted.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), noise is second only to air pollution in the impact it has on health. It is a major cause, not only of hearing loss, but also of heart disease, learning problems in children and sleep disturbance. Yet traffic noise could easily be halved, with existing technology, if more stringent limits were adopted.

Between 2005 and 2014 T&E worked at the EU and global levels for tighter restrictions on sources of transport noise including cars, lorries and trains. We continue to seek out opportunities to cut noise pollution.

What’s happening?

In December 2011, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a new regulation aimed at tightening noise emissions standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses. Vehicle noise standards were last updated in 1996, so were long overdue.

The Commission proposal foresees a four-decibel reduction in noise emissions from cars and a three-decibel reduction from lorries. These tightened standards will enter into force five years after the regulation receives final approval, i.e. not before 2017. T&E, together with other environmental NGOs, has been advocating for the limits to be enforced faster, with an additional third step of reductions for all vehicles to come into force in 2020. The European Parliament voted on a first position in February 2013. Member states then reached their first position at the end of the Irish presidency in June. The Commission, Parliament and member states came to a final agreement in November 2013. Unfortunately, the Commission’s proposal was significantly weakened, adding unnecessary delay and a less ambitious level noise reduction. This means noise reductions on the road won’t be heard for as long as 30 years.

What does the agreed deal say?

The new law agreed between the Commission, Parliament and member states in November 2013 extends a 15 year delay before new vehicle standard are fully introduced, compared to the Commission proposal which would have them introduced in 7 years. Following the 15 year delay, the updated standard will apply to all new vehicles sold. Because the European car fleet renews every 15 years, the full benefits of lower noise levels will only be heard after 30 years. In September 2013, an independent report assessed the impact of different noise proposals brought forward by the different institutions. By choosing this weakened proposal, the EU has saved the car industry €1.3 billion in costs, while the cost to society is €67 billion.