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Wed, Sept. 18

Council to muffle car stereos

The Prescott Valley Town Council is studying the feasibility of levying fines against drivers who play their car stereos too loudly. While the intent is to specifically target drivers of vehicles that have after-market very low frequency bass (VLFB) amplifiers installed, not all council members believe a new noise ordinance will work.

"This is about legislating respect (for others), and we can't do that," council member Lora Nye said at Thursday's work-study session.

The council is considering changing the existing noise ordinance to give police officers more "teeth" in citing those who play their amplified stereos so loud as to disturb others. The action comes after a resident sent several letters of complaint to the council. Police Chief Daniel Schatz said police cited two drivers for their loud stereos so far this year; the department might have received more complaints, but it does not track the number of complaints, only the number of citations.

VLFB amplifiers increase the decibel output of lower frequencies; drums and bass guitars comprise the lower frequencies in modern music. The amplifiers, combined with the resonating characteristics of the essentially hollow metal vehicle, are so effective that the music emanating from a passing vehicle can cause a home's windows to rattle. Bystanders can literally feel the concussion created by the amplified low frequencies moving the air.

The letters of complaint prompted Town staffers to learn how other communities create the parameters for enforcing noise ordinances against loud stereos. They examined the ordinances from 10 different cities plus the state codes of California and Florida. Asked by the council why staffers didn't look at the ordinances of Prescott and Chino Valley, Community Development Director Richard Parker said that those towns "are not working on the problem."

Parker said all the ordinances and codes they examined that singled out car stereos had two basic approaches to determining a violation. One is to measure the actual decibel output of a stereo at a specific distance from the vehicle, typically 25 to 100 feet away. The second is to simply ticket violators whose stereos are audible at all at a specified distance from the vehicle.

Schatz said it would be "very difficult" to enforce an ordinance that required a police officer to use a decibel meter to measure the intensity of music volume from a car stereo. He favored the idea of determining a violation as "any audible sound from a specified distance away." Schatz said that other cities successfully enforce that kind of ordinance.

"Courts have found the language to be neither too vague nor too broad," he said.

At present Town Ordinance 10-01-070 makes it unlawful to play any "sound amplifier or any instrument of any kind or character which emits loud and raucous noises" from a vehicle.

Town Attorney Ivan Legler said the ordinance "dates from the 1970s" and that it was time to update it.

Like Nye, council member Mike Flannery was dubious about the effectiveness of targeting VLFB amplifiers.

"The biggest offender that penetrates our neighborhoods at night isn't going to change," he said.

Council member Fran Schumacher agreed, but said "it's still a good idea to update the ordinance."

Council member and former police chief Ed Seder pointed out that the VLFB ordinance will give police "another tool" to enforce traffic law, even if it doesn't eliminate noise violations.

Mayor Rick Killingsworth received a consensus from the council to move ahead with the ordinance change.

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