Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Loud Car Stereos

The table below summarizes the responses to loud car stereos, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Enforcement of Noise Laws
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
1Enforcing laws that prohibit plainly audible car stereos Deters offenders through civil fines…there is adequate enforcementMay require some officer training to estimate distances
2Enforcing laws that establish specific decibel limits for car stereos Deters offenders through civil finessound-monitoring equipment is properly calibrated, and officers are properly trainedDifficult to obtain valid readings from moving sound sources; requires expensive sound-monitoring equipment and officer training; background noise can confound readings
3Enhancing penalties or lowering tolerance levels for loud car stereo violations that occur in specified zones Discourages potential offenders from playing car stereos loudly in areas with especially vulnerable people; potentially displaces offenders to areas where noise is less likely to disturb others

potential offenders are adequately notified of special zones (through signs, publicity and warnings), and there is adequate enforcement

Requires legislative authorization
4Enhancing penalties for repeat offenders Deters chronic offenders through escalating sanctionsjudges are willing to impose increased sanctionsSome chronic offenders are deeply committed to loud car stereos as part of their lifestyle, and are not easily deterred
5Impounding cars with loud stereos as evidence Temporarily removes cars from public places; deters offenders by temporarily depriving them of their enjoymentthere is an efficient system for towing and impounding vehiclesImpoundment for evidence should be equally applied to all vehicles, not used as extra punishment applied solely at officers' discretion
6Holding car owners liable for loud car stereo violations Allows enforcement without stopping and identifying the driver; encourages car owners to ensure their vehicles are used responsiblythe general public perceives owner liability for loud car stereo violations as fair, and citations can be issued based on complainants' testimonyRequires legislative authorization
7Obtaining nuisance abatement orders against loud car stereo owners Deters offenders through a range of civil remediesapplied against chronic offenders, and there is an efficient system for filing nuisance abatement actionsMust prove the nuisance is ongoing, rather than an isolated incident
8Sentencing offenders to listen to music they do not like Deters offenders by exposing them to a similar annoyance and requiring them to spend time complying with the sentencejudges are willing to impose this sanction (and have a sense of humor)Is more likely to generate publicity than to deter offenders
Warnings and Education
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
9Issuing written warnings Puts offenders on official notice of legal restrictions, and that sound levels exceed the limits; gives unwitting offenders the opportunity to comply with the lawthere is a system for tracking official warnings, so that repeat offenders are ultimately subject to formal sanctionsCosts of creating and maintaining a warning record keeping system
10Requiring car stereo dealers to provide customers with warnings about the health and legal consequences of playing car stereos loudly Puts customers on official notice of legal restrictions and encourages their voluntary compliancecar stereo dealers willingly cooperateModest costs of printing and distributing information
11Posting warning signs in areas where loud car stereos are common Warns offenders of legal restrictions and encourages their voluntary compliancesigns are conspicuously posted in areas prone to loud car stereosCosts of manufacturing and posting signs
12Holding public demonstrations regarding loud car stereo violations Encourages compliance by giving potential offenders a better understanding of how the law applies to their car stereos, and by allowing them to interact with the police in a nonadversarial settingdemonstrations are well attended and held in conjunction with car stereo competitions and eventsCooperating with the police may run counter to what some car stereo enthusiasts see as the purpose of having high-powered car stereos
Response With Limited Effectiveness
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If...Considerations
13Enforcing laws that require police to make subjective judgments about noisePolice must judge not only the sound level, but also the content's quality or effect on otherslocal courts have upheld police enforcement of this type of lawRequires highly subjective police judgments; such laws are vulnerable to legal challenges on grounds they are vague or overbroad