More than 200 million European citizens (one in three) are regularly exposed to traffic noise levels that put their health at risk. One in five are negatively impacted by vehicle noise at night. Although often forgotten by policymakers, traffic noise is the most harmful environmental problem after air pollution in the European Union. According to the latest report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), noise can cause hearing damage, cardiovascular disease, learning impairment in children and sleep disturbance. A report carried out for T&E in 2008 has linked noise pollution to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year and 5% of strokes in Europe.
In 2011, twenty prominent European noise experts wrote to the European Commission warning about the negative impact of vehicle noise on the quality of life of hundreds of millions of Europeans if no serious action is taken.
What are the benefits of reducing vehicle noise?
A 2012 report commissioned by T&E to three Dutch consultancies has shown that tighter vehicle noise standards would have benefits that outweigh the costs by a factor of more than 30 to one. Furthermore, some 87 billion euros could be saved in health-related expenditures every year in the EU, if more stringent legislation on vehicle noise was implemented. A three-decibel cut in vehicle noise emissions would be equivalent to halving the traffic levels (the decibel scale is logarithmic). A ten-decibel reduction would imply cutting noise by as much as ten times. The quieter vehicles are, the less governments and local authorities have to spend on installing costly insulation barriers to protect homes and public buildings. Poorer people in urban areas, who cannot afford to move to more sought-after quieter homes, would also see the values of their properties increase as well as health improvements if traffic noise was reduced.
Which kinds of vehicles will be bound to respect the new regulation?
At the beginning, only new models of vehicles will be obliged to meet the standards of the new regulation. It will be only two years after step 2 – i.e. not before 2019 – that all new vehicles will be obliged to comply with the new noise limits.
Will quieter vehicles cost a lot more?
No. Technology for reducing car, van and lorry noise is already readily available. It just needs to be more widely implemented. Currently, the vast majority of cars in the market already meet step 1 of the Commission proposal, and around 25% are even compliant with step 2.
Why is lorry noise such a big issue?
Lorries represent only 3% of the vehicles circulating on European roads, but they are responsible for half of the noise emissions. It is therefore clear that taking action to cut lorry noise is vital if the Commission is serious about reducing overall traffic noise.
What is the role of the UNECE in setting noise limits?
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe is a global standard-setting body based in Geneva. It has a working group responsible for setting international vehicle noise emission standards and test ing proceedures. The EU can decide whether to use UNECE standards in Europe or to set its own. The UNECE working group for noise has in recent years become dominated by industry interests. In 2009, T&E revealed that a Porsche engineer had written a UNECE proposal for a new noise testing method that favoured noisy sports cars.
How is the German car industry influencing the debate?
The German government, in its official positions, is calling for more stringent international noise standards. However, in September 2011, The German Ministry for Environment put forward a proposal to the UNECE which, if adopted, would jeopardise the implementation of stricter noise emission standards in Europe. Under the German proposal, all sports cars would be allowed to emit up to four times more than regular cars, and some family cars would be granted as much as two and a half times the noise emissions of normal cars. Furthermore trucks would have to reduce their noise emissions in 2027 or 2028 at the earliest, and only by one decibel. Taking into account the slow pace of fleet renewal, this would mean reducing the overall noise emissions from lorries by one decibel in half a century.