Parliament backs law to tone down harmful traffic noise 

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Noise limits for cars would be tightened to protect public health, under a draft law voted in Parliament on Wednesday. MEPs also recommended introducing labels to inform consumers about new cars' noise levels and adding sound to hybrid and electric vehicles to alert pedestrians.

Persistent exposure to high levels of traffic noise can prove physically draining, disrupt organ functions and contribute to cardiovascular and other diseases. Research by the European Environment Agency shows traffic exposes half of the EU's urban population to noise levels above 55 decibels (db).

"The harmful impact of traffic noise has been scientifically proved but the legislative proposal is entirely focused on the noise generated by the vehicle engine. My idea was more comprehensive from the beginning, we need to address other factors such as road tar quality, aerodynamics and tyres", said rapporteur Miroslav Ouzký (ECR, CZ), after the draft legislation was adopted with 401 votes in favour, 228 against and 20 abstentions. He will now negotiate an agreement with EU countries.

Tougher sound limits

The draft legislation proposes to phase in new limits six and eight years after the new rules come into force. The first phase would apply to new vehicle models, the second to all new vehicles entering into service.

The limit for standard cars would be reduced to 68 db from 74 db currently. More powerful vehicles would be allowed a margin of 2 to 6 extra decibels. However, MEPs maintained the limit for the most powerful heavy lorries (over 12 tonnes) at 81 db.

MEPs recognise that vehicle noise is also affected by the road surface, tyre noise and aerodynamics.

Noise labels

Members also want new cars to be labelled on their noise performance to inform consumers. Similar labelling schemes already exist for fuel efficiency, tyre noise and CO2 emissions.

Silent danger

MEPs are concerned that quiet electric and hybrid car engines can pose a threat to pedestrians and want compulsory requirements in future to add sound to these vehicles. The draft legislation points to a number of standards that must first be developed for such "Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems (AVAS)".

Procedure:  Co-decision (Ordinary Legislative Procedure), 1st reading