By Daniel J. Chacon, Rocky Mountain News July 18, 2007
A new law in Denver designed to curb motorcycle noise is being challenged in court by an attorney who claims police bikes may be violating the standards that went into effect less than three weeks ago. Attorney Wade Eldridge, himself a biker, also claims the noise ordinance is unconstitutionally vague. The law "lends itself to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement," he said Tuesday. "The police can stop you for whatever reason." Eldridge's claim that police motorcycles may be exceeding allowable noise levels is disputed by police and city officials. "I think that is a specious argument from an attorney who is trying to get his client off," said Ellen Dumm, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Environmental Health. "He's trying to find some fine hairs to split." The law, born out of a growing number of complaints about loud motorcycle noise in neighborhoods, generated criticism from the start, mostly from bikers who said they were being singled out because of a few rotten apples.
The law limits noise levels to 80 decibels from 25 feet and requires motorcyclists with bikes made after 1982 to have a muffler with an Environmental Protection Agency noise-certification stamp. Eldridge represents a biker ticketed downtown. According to court documents, tests conducted by the city on police motorcycles found sound levels at redline of 81.3 decibels and 81.7 decibels. The accuracy of the sound meters the city used is within plus or minus .5 decibels, so police motorcycles may be in violation of the new law, Eldridge said. But Dumm said the city is confident that the police motorcycles meet EPA standards "simply because the device was calibrated before and after, and (the test) was in a very controlled situation." Besides, she said, police are unlikely to ticket a motorcyclist who's exceeding the noise limit by a few decibels.
Police Capt. Eric Rubin, who used to head the Traffic Operations Bureau, agreed. "We're not really looking for motorcycles that are at 83 or 84 decibels," he said. "The ones that tend to get the attention of the public are considerably higher in decibel rating than that." Eldridge said the law leaves enforcement up to the "unfettered discretion of the individual officer." Eldridge said his client, Stuart Sacks, was told he was stopped because his pipes were too loud. "The officer neither inspected his bike to see if it had the stamp nor did he use a sound meter," he said. "What's this: A gut feeling by the officer that your pipes are too loud?" Rubin didn't know the details of that stop but said officers are using their training and experience in the field "as reasonable suspicion to briefly stop the rider" and check for the EPA stamp.