EU Would Quiet Vehicles to Benefit Public Health

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 12, 2011 (ENS) – The European Commission Friday adopted a proposal to reduce the noise produced by cars, vans, buses, coaches, light and heavy trucks by some 25 percent over five years.

But on the other hand, the Commission also proposed that electric and hybrid electric vehicles, which run silently, be fitted with sound generating devices to make them audible for the greater safety of pedestrians and other cars on the road. The requirements would ensure harmonization of the applied technology across the European Union.

Noisy traffic in Paris (Photo by sojalemmie)

European vehicle noise emissions limits have not changed since 1996, despite increasing traffic. Earlier this year, 20 of Europe’s vehicle noise experts sent a letter to the Commission calling for more action on vehicle noise, which negatively affects almost half of European citizens, around 210 million people.

Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship said, “Noise emissions due to road traffic, from which our citizens are suffering, will be significantly reduced. Our proposal will lead to quieter motor vehicles on our roads and a healthier environment.”

In its “Proposal for a Regulation on the sound level of motor vehicles,” the Commission cites evidence from the World Health Organization that shows traffic noise in urban areas in Europe to be a major environmental stressor.

“In the first place,” the Commission writes, “noise exposure can lead to disturbance of sleep and daily activities, to annoyance and to stress. Over a prolonged period of exposure these effects may in their turn increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and psychiatric disorders.”

The 2008 WHO-report ‘Economic valuation of transport-related health effects, with a special focus on children’ identified the following health endpoints for noise exposure: severe annoyance, reduced sleep quality, severe sleep disturbance, insomnia, ischemic heart disease and hypertension.

“Given the known effects on health, quality of life and consequential costs, real reductions in noise exposure are highly desirable,” wrote the world health body.

With the proposal approved on Friday, the Commission says that current EU rules applicable to noise emissions from vehicles will be updated and further aligned with internationally recognized United Nations standards.

Having the same basic rules throughout the EU makes it easier to buy, sell and use vehicles in any Member State and ensures equal health, safety and environmental standards across the EU.

“Our proposal will also make international rules for industry clearer, so it will be easier for European manufacturers to sell cars outside the EU,” Tajani said.

Under the proposal, noise limit values would be lowered in two steps, each of 2 dB(A), for passenger cars, vans, buses and coaches.

For trucks, the reduction would be 1 dB(A) in the first step and 2 dB(A) in the second step.

The first step would apply two years after the publication of the rules, once they are approved by the European Parliament and Member States. The second step would come three years after that.

Noisy traffic in Barcelona, Spain (Photo by Antonio Lana)

In addition, the European Commission intends to introduce a new and more reliable test method to measure sound emissions.

Environmental and health groups are recommending a third cut in noise levels in 2020. The groups are also concerned about the limits for heavy goods vehicles which they say don’t go far enough. Lorries represent only three percent of vehicles, but are responsible for half of all vehicle noise emissions.

Said Nina Renshaw, deputy director at Transport and Environment, a non-partisan, non-profit pan-European scientific and educational association, “While this proposal is a welcome move in the right direction, it should have gone farther and faster.”

“The vast majority of cars for sale already meet step 1 of the Commission proposal, and almost a quarter even achieve step 2; so these steps are clearly not tough enough,” said Renshaw. “50,000 heart deaths in Europe are caused by transport noise every year, it is obvious that the problem merits bolder action.”

Renshaw said, “It’s far cheaper to add readily-available noise reducing technology to vehicles than for cash-strapped local authorities to spend millions on noise barriers along roads. The benefits outweigh the costs by 20 to 1, so there is no excuse for inaction.”

The Health and Environment Alliance says huge health benefits can be reaped from strong standards on vehicle noise. “Ambitious regulation on vehicle noise could help avoid huge numbers of first-time strokes and heart deaths in Europe, and help reduce the disturbance that noise has on sleep and children’s ability to concentrate,” says HEAL Deputy Director Anne Stauffer. “New evidence on the harmful effects of exposure to noise is emerging all the time.”

“After air pollution, noise is the biggest environmental health problem in Europe,” said Louise Duprez, speaking for European Environmental Bureau, made up of more than 140 member organizations from 31 countries. “This proposal is a cheap way of cutting the problem by targeting it at the source. Let’s make sure it is done right and put an end to this dangerous nuisance.”

Now, the Commission’s proposal will be submitted to the European co-legislators, the European Parliament and to the Council of Ministers.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.