Do loud pipes save lives?

by on August 7, 2011
in Blowing a Gasket

Straight pipes on my Sportster.  I took part in a good online discussion recently that stemmed from a photo of a guy wearing a t-shirt that read, “Loud pipes save lives.” The question that arose was whether loud pipes do indeed save lives.

I believe that they can, and here’s why:

When I am driving my car, if I hear a motorcycle coming from any direction, I look around until I see it so I know where it is, the same way I do when I hear an emergency vehicle siren. Maybe I only do this because I ride, and am therefore more sympathetic. But I would certainly hope that at least a percentage of others do the same.

Conversely, I’ve been startled by quiet vehicles (including motorcycles) that suddenly pass me, seemingly coming from out of nowhere. These situations have made me acutely aware that I was not aware of their presence, and that’s dangerous.

It was suggested in this discussion that I should consider the AMA’s position on loud pipes. The AMA states that bikers should keep noise levels reasonable out of respect for others. I think this is actually a good “play nice” position, similar to their position on helmet use: it should be voluntary.

The AMA also believes that law enforcement should enforce “appropriate” laws against excessive sound. Noise ordinances already exist in most communities. Where loud pipes are truly a problem, I imagine law enforcement is out there writing the tickets and collecting the revenue – just as they are out in Sturgis right now writing tickets for high handlebars.

The best argument the AMA makes is that excessive noise eventually causes fatigue for the rider and could thus impair their riding abilities. I think they should be putting some resources into proving this point, and making a fact-based argument for it.

In reality, all the “play nice” thinking doesn’t matter much. What matters is what happens on the road. And on the road, drivers who hit motorcyclists love to claim, “I didn’t see the motorcycle.” Obviously, then, awareness of motorcycles is a big issue. And if loud pipes make drivers aware of motorcycles, then perhaps that will mean fewer accidents.

So – do loud pipes save lives? I think they can. What do you think?