A model house wearing protective ear wear

Vehicles in Streatham exceed noise pollution law “every 2.8 minutes”

In a 25 hour period, more than 300 vehicles were recorded making noise above 80 decibels (dB) in residential London suburb
16 November 2023 , By Steve Smethurst

A 2023 UKHSA study states that noise increases risk of people having strokes and developing serious health conditions, such as ischemic heart disease

A group of residents in Streatham, in Lambeth, South-West London, have highlighted the issue of noise pollution from modified motorbikes and cars by using a crowdfunded high-tech microphone that cost £350.

One of the residents, identified only as Lukasz, told the Brixton Buzz website: “We have first-hand reports of residents forced to wear earplugs in their own homes, worsening of existing health conditions, children and babies having insufficient sleep, and cyclists and pedestrians frightened by loud bangs of exhaust systems at very close range.”

The group monitored traffic over a 25-hour period during the summer and found more than 500 vehicles breaking the law – one every 2.8 minutes. The legal limit for car exhausts is 74 dB (for cars manufactured after 2016, the limit is 72 dB, a threshold set to further reduce to 68 dB from 2026). More than 300 vehicles were recorded exceeding 80 decibels (dB). Four vehicles were recorded above 100dB.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has outlined the noise levels that threaten health (Coughlan, 2007) to be 50dB or above to cause heart issues, 42 dB to cause sleep disturbance, and 35 dB to cause annoyance.

The residents said they had written to Lambeth Council asking them to trial noise cameras in the area. The group’s results tie in with a UKHSA study released in June, which assessed the impact of transport noise in every local authority in England using Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs).

It found that 100,000 years of good health were lost due to road traffic noise in 2018. People in London, the South East and North West regions had the highest number of years of good health lost as a result of road-traffic noise.

The study also found that noise increased the risk of people having strokes and developing serious health conditions, such as ischemic heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

Gloria Elliott OBE, Chief Executive of the Noise Abatement Society (NAS) said: “While the initiative and resourcefulness of Streatham residents making their voices heard is laudable, the fact is that excessively noisy vehicles and modified exhausts are illegal. Communities shouldn’t feel such lengths are necessary or have to suffer the unending blight of noise.

“NAS supports the government’s work to combat road noise by developing rigorous, evidence-based solutions like noise cameras. Unfortunately these are not yet widely available. However, councils and the police have existing powers to stop anti-social driving and the use of illegally modified exhausts.”

“Residents have felt the need to actively do something. The fact they have taken affirmative action speaks volumes.” 

Daniel Baker is Director of Broodbakker Acoustic Consultants and is also the CIEH representative on the committee that sets British Standards on noise. He said: “You could probably pick holes in the residents’ methodology – do the measurements comply with British Standards, were they calibrated and reported properly etc? But that is probably missing the point. Residents have felt the need to actively do something. The fact they have taken affirmative action speaks volumes.”

He added: “While longer term effects from ‘normal’ road traffic can be controlled through good acoustic design during planning, the modification of exhausts to purposefully increase noise can only be dealt with retrospectively.

“Impact is further exacerbated in this case as there is already a very busy road that also contains noisy events from exhaust modification. It would be difficult for a local authority to proactively address this issue without the use of specialist equipment to catch perpetrators in the act.”

In 2022, a study by the CIEH found that 356,367 noise complaints were recorded by 144 local authorities; on average 149 complaints for every 10,000 people.

  • Lambeth Council was approached for comment.
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