Motorcycle Noise Laws and How They Affect Riders in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia
Many states don’t have statewide motorcycle noise restrictions on a decibel level, but they do require working mufflers or sound dissipative devices, often either OEM or a comparable replacement. Many states also outlaw cutouts and bypasses for highway driving.
North Carolina Law Exhaust Systems (§ 20-128)
- Vehicles (including motorcycles) can’t be driven on the highway unless they are equipped with a working muffler or exhaust system “of the type installed at the time of manufacture”
- Muffler cutouts are illegal on highways
- Motorcycles manufactured after 1967 are required to have emissions control devices “that were installed on the vehicle at the time the vehicle was manufactured”
South Carolina Muffler Laws (§ 56-5-5020)
Vehicles are required to be equipped with a muffler that’s in “good working order” to prevent excessive noise or smoke. Cutouts, bypasses and similar devices aren’t allowed on South Carolina highways.
Virginia Muffler Laws (§ 46.2-1050)
Motorcycles are required to have a working muffler, or some other sound dissipative device installed. It’s illegal to “remove or render inoperative” the muffler or device except for maintenance or replacement purposes.
The law does specify that an exhaust system doesn’t pass the test if it, “permits the escape of noise in excess of that permitted by the standard factory equipment exhaust system.”
How exactly does a law enforcement officer prove your aftermarket muffler permits more noise than your bike’s OEM muffler? Unless they are an expert or can do a side-by-side comparison on the spot, it will be hard for them to come up with proof.
In many cases whether you get a citation or just a warning will be up to the responding officer and how they choose to react.
When Are Riders Likely to Be Cited for Noise Violations?
Safety inspectors will usually check for baffles in a motorcycle’s exhaust system during state mandated inspections.
Although North Carolina doesn’t have any statewide noise restrictions, some cities have enacted their own local noise ordinances. You can find Asheville’s noise regulations here. Ashville’s ordinance doesn’t specify a certain decibel level, it just bans noise levels that:
- Endangers or injures the health or safety of humans or animals
- Endangers or injures personal or real property
- Disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivity
Other potential noise violations include playing music in your car or on your motorcycle, “in such a manner as to be plainly audible by pedestrians or the occupants of other vehicles.” Tires squealing or screeching “unnecessarily” is also listed among frequent complaint sources.
The list is broad enough that nearly everyone has likely been guilty of excess noise production at some point, which means enforcement tends to be up to the discretion of reporting law enforcement.
Lexington, South Carolina has similar noise policies, but they do list a “maximum allowable decibel levels for motor vehicles,” with motorcycles listed at 85 decibels at 25 feet. Greenville has requirements similar to Asheville to discourage loud noises that interferes with the “comfortable enjoyment of persons of ordinary sensibilities occupying, owning or controlling nearby properties, or persons making use of public properties for their intended purposes.”
While Greenville doesn’t list decibel limits for specific types of vehicles, they do limit daytime and nighttime decibels to:
- Daytime city wide: 60 decibels
- Daytime central business district: 80 decibels
- Nighttime city wide: 55 decibels
- Nighttime central business district: 75 decibels
Situations Where the Rules Don’t Apply
Many of the statewide laws are specific to highway driving and city or municipal ordinances specific to residential areas or places where people could be disturbed. If you’re racing on a track or otherwise off on your own somewhere people won’t be bothered a lot of those rules don’t apply or won’t be enforced.
Getting Help If You’re Injured in a Motorcycle Accident in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia
Most auto accident personal injury lawyers aren’t intimately familiar with what a rider experiences on the road or what they go through after being injured in a motorcycle wreck because they aren’t riders. At the Motorcycle Law Group, The Firm That Rides®, we do understand the challenges and prejudices you face when dealing with the legal system and insurance companies.