NEW DENVER NOISE ORDINANCE
By Tim Anderson
Denver’s new, severe noise ordinance has only been in effect since July 1, 2007, but the measure has already gained nationwide notoriety and made an impact on the Colorado motorcycling community.
Word of the harsh penalties for riding a motorcycle without an exhaust system bearing an Environmental Protection Agency compliance stamp—a $500 fine and untold court dates and headaches—has spread beyond the state boundaries, focusing the attention of motorcyclists, and other cities, on Denver.
The measure, passed on June 4, 2007 after a very quiet development process, appears as a very straightforward vehicle noise ordinance applying to all motor vehicles except for the last section, which clearly and pointedly singles out motorcycles and riders for special enforcement and harsh penalties. Essentially, section “D” of the ordinance declares any exhaust system with out the EPA stamp illegal, regardless of whether that system falls within the permitted sound level of 82 db. In practical terms, that means the bike would have to have the original exhaust system installed by the manufacturer.
The provision also allows police to stop riders based on “reasonable suspicion” that the exhaust system is illegal. In other words, if police think a bike “looks loud” or “might be louder” than the 82 db limit, they can stop the rider and issue a summons.
Denver Police claim motorcycles will not be specifically targeted.
“From what I understand, enforcement will be basically resident driven,” said John White of the DPD Public Affairs Office. “If we get complaints, we will respond to that area, and if the officer observes a motorcycle exceeding the noise limit or sees an incorrect exhaust they will issue a summons to appear in environmental court, where the motorcycle will be tested.”
White said that to his knowledge there are no plans to specifically target different areas and stop motorcycles for potential violations.
“Frankly, we don’t have the manpower for that,” he said.
White added that the traffic division would be dealing with the issue for the most part, and he was not sure what plans they might have for enforcement. He also deferred to the city attorney’s office regarding questions about specifics of how the ticketing, testing and court process will work, saying only that those getting a summons are expected to appear in environmental court rather than traffic court.
While DPD says there are no plans to go after motorcyclists, there are indications to the contrary.
Mike Helmet, owner of EuroMotion Inc, which sells and services Borget and Big Dog Motorcycles along with other V-twin bikes, said police have visited his shop, warning him they would be enforcing the ordinance. He added that a new noise ordinance sign was posted at Asbury and South Broadway—between his shop and Performance Cycle.
“I’ve been in business thirteen years and I’ve never seen a sign there,” Helmet said. “Now, ten days before the new law goes into effect, there’s a sign right between two motorcycle shops.”
Helmet said the ordinance has already forced him to change the way he does business.
“We have to ride the bikes we service for liability reasons,” he said. “I’ll take the fine before I’ll endanger a customer. We don’t ride in the neighborhood, we ride them out on Santa Fe, but my shop is in Denver, so we have to ride in Denver, and a lot of the bikes we get in here won’t pass this law. The way the law is written, I could be looking at as much as $1500 in fines for test riding a bike and letting the customer take it home. I’ve warned my guys, and we’re warning our customers to keep it quiet around here. I can’t have police waiting around for us to bring a bike out. My entire business depends on how bad the police want to hurt somebody. That’s no way to run a business.”
In addition to EuroMotion, Inc., another type of motorcycling business is already feeling ramifications. Event promoter Pro Promotions, the company that puts on the annual Salute to American Veterans Rally in winter Park, Colorado, has been fielding calls about the new law.
“We’ve had some calls already from people wanting to know how close Denver is to Winter Park, and is there a way to avoid Denver altogether,” said Pro Promotions president Jim Wear. “We’ve even received e-mails and call from people from California and other states telling us they’re going to skip the Veterans Rally this year because they don’t want to get a $500 ticket by coming to Colorado.”
Wear said the impression around the country is that the law is statewide.
“The AMA posted something about this on their website, and it’s been circulating through out the motorcycle community and has grown into something that is affecting the entire state,” Wear explained. “Even if people understand this is only in force in Denver, a fair number of people don’t want to take the chance on getting a ticket because they don’t know their way around.”
The Veterans Rally is expected to draw 50,000 people to Winter Park this year, and has seen attendance approaching 80,000 in past years, many of them motorcyclists from out of state.
“This is a unique event in the nation, it puts attention on Colorado, it enjoys broad support, and it honors our fighting men and women who are out defending out rights,” Wear said, “and now it’s being affected to some degree by an ordinance that may not have been thought out too well and could be difficult to enforce and prosecute.”
In Colorado, the Colorado Confederation of Clubs has taken the lead in trying to address the issue. The group is currently exploring legal challenges to the ordinance, and is organizing motorcyclists to fight the ordinance. The COC has already put together an awareness rally in conjunction with radio talk show host Peter Boyles and USA Biker Nation, his nationwide motorcycle show. In addition to all the glaring problems with the law—discrimination, Fourth and Fifth Amendment concerns, proper testing, the outrageous fine, and the presumption of guilt to name a few—the COC is concerned with the “reasonable suspicion” provision of the law.
“The reasonable suspicion element is nothing more than a free pass for police to stop any motorcyclist at any time to go on a fishing expedition,” said a COC spokesman. “This applies only to motorcyclists, not cars or any other vehicle. That is a concern.”
The Confederation of Clubs is an organization of more than 40 motorcycle clubs and organizations dedicated to fighting discrimination against motorcyclists from all walks of life and protecting the rights of all motorcyclists.
The American Motorcyclist Association has expressed serious concerns about the law that essentially requires all riders in the city to use only stock exhaust systems.
"We understand the motivation for cities to pass laws controlling sound levels from traffic," said Ed Moreland, AMA Vice President for Government Relations. "But the approach being taken in Denver creates a special class of enforcement that unfairly targets motorcyclists. Loud trucks and cars are every bit as annoying as loud motorcycles, but only motorcyclists would be subject to this new provision of the labeling law."
To understand the restrictions being imposed on motorcyclists, Moreland asked car drivers to consider the impact if Denver city officials had instead required stock mufflers on cars, making it illegal for Denver drivers to buy replacement exhaust systems from companies like Midas or Meineke.
"That would force everyone who drives a Ford to return to the Ford dealer and get the exact replacement muffler every time their exhaust system wore out," he said.
The AMA's position on the new Denver ordinance got support in a June 7, 2007, editorial in the Rocky Mountain News which stated: "As more than one critic of the ordinance…noted, it just doesn't appear ready for prime time."
Several years ago, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, passed a similar certification ordinance affecting motorcyclists there. Motorcyclist groups worked with city officials for two years before that provision was rescinded and the city went back to a performance-based sound standard. A similar compromise was reached in Colorado Springs three years ago when that city enacted a measure almost identical to Denver’s new law.
The AMA has contacted Denver City Council members in hopes of opening up a dialogue on this topic.
"We look forward to working with the Denver City Council to come up with a more reasonable solution for dealing with excessive sound levels from traffic," Moreland said. "Our experience has shown that there are a range of approaches cities can take to this issue without imposing restrictive laws on motorcyclists."
At this point, it doesn’t look like that is likely to happen. Some council members have dug in and refuse to discuss the issue. Councilman Rick Garcia, sponsor of the ordinance has made his position clear: "This is about egregious motorcycle noise and neighborhoods,” he said.
He reportedly went on to say he wasn’t concerned if there were any motorcycles in Denver at all.