If it's too loud, you're too old.

Yesterday I was minding my own business scrolling through Twitter when a headline caught my eye. “West Virginia Introduces Bill to Ban Aftermarket and Loud Pipes...”

I did what any car enthusiast would do; I tweeted the first word that came to mind. “Communists”. Then I did what no one ever does; I clicked the link.


The post on the Harley Davidson forum was concise and used specific outtakes of the bill to back the headlines claim and included a link to the bills sponsors contact info and a link to the full transcript of the bill (HB2150). Again I did what nobody does; I clicked the link.

That’s when things started to not add up. Following the text of the proposed bill it is clearly written:

“Strike-troughs indicate language that would be stricken from the present law, and underscoring indicates new language that would be added.”


Interesting. I had just read the bill, and read it with a point of view based on the headline from a forum. If this disclaimer had preceded the text of the bill I may have read it more carefully.

So I read it again. (I am using BOLD type in place of underscoring.)

a) Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with a muffler in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise. Such The muffler shall be the muffler originally installed by the manufacturer of the vehicle or, if a replacement, the equivalent there of. No A person shall may not use a muffler cutout, bypass, or similar device upon a motor vehicle on a highway.”


If, like I did, the poster at the Harley Forum read the bill with a preconceived point of view; I can understand their incorrect opinion. Once I read the disclaimer it became obvious that any aftermarket exhaust, or lack there of, that allowed “excessive” noise levels were already illegal in West Virginia and under no threat from this bill. The portion of the bill quoted by the forum post that is being added to the already existing law is intended to clarify what is to be considered excessive.

“c) A person may not modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in a manner so that the exhaust system emits in excess of ninety-five decibels as measured by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Standard J1169 (May 1988). It is not a violation of this section, unless proven by proper authorities, that the exhaust system modification results in noise amplification in excess of ninety-five decibels under the prescribed SAE test standard.


I decided this was worth looking into more thoroughly. If the original poster had been incorrect in their assumption on what the bill was about maybe they missed something else. I have a high frequency hearing loss from noise exposer so I’m not unaware of the dangers from excessive noise, and its increased harm over time. So I opened up Google and Kinja and started working on it.

I first wanted to know more about the bills sponsor. Who is Gary Howell and is he a “communist” as I had so flippantly accused? How loud is 95db? If the proposed bill is enacted the intricacies of SAE Standard J1169 need to be understood. Otherwise how would a person know they were in violation or not?


I went to the first place anyone would go; I went to the sponsors, Delegate Gary G. Howell; West Virginia House of Delegates, District 56 (Mr. Howell) Wikipedia page. I am aware that Wikipedia isn’t always accurate, but I figured as a Delegate in State government; I assumed there was someone likely to keep an eye on it for accuracy, and its always a good place to start. Mr. Howell has been involved with motorsports “extensively” and not only raced cars but built show cars. This guy didn’t sound like the type of nanny state commie that would be subverting car culture, so I did a broader search and found that beyond his motorsports background he also owns Howell Automotive. Howell Automotive is an aftermarket retailer. Further Mr. Howell is a member of SEMA and the Chairman of State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus a organized group of “Legislators Who Support the Hobby.”

According to Merriam Webster a decibel is “a unit for expressing the relative intensity of sounds on a scale from zero to about 130 for the average pain level.”


Information located on the National Institute of Health (NIH) website, the smallest sound a person with “normal hearing” can detect is 0db. Way off the scale at 140-150db is jet engines and firearms respectively. (That’s where my hearing loss is attributed to.) So what’s closer to our 95db? at 90db we have lawnmowers (On other sites I’ve seen them rated as high as 107db) and at 100db we have wood shop saws. (I can’t be in the same room as this equipment without hearing protection.) At 95db according to the NIH is motorcycles. Interesting. A Honda Shadow or a Harley, Kawasaki Ninja or a BMW café racer. It seems the NIH regards all motorcycles as having the same db rating. Interesting.

That leaves us with the mystery of the measuring standard the SAE J1169 and one cannot forget the inclusion of (May 1988). SAE J1169 (May 1988) states:

Scope: “This SAE Standard establishes the test procedure, environment, and instrumentation to be used for measuring the exhaust sound level of passenger cars, multipurpose vehicles, and light trucks under stationary conditions. Measurements are taken under steady-state conditions...This sound level measurement procedure has been developed as a guide for governmental agencies establishing in-service sound level limitations and enforcement measurement procedures. it is directed at the assessment of vehicle exhaust noise and is not intended to determine maximum vehicle sound levels.


You will note that the language of SAEJ1169 (May 1988) “Under stationary” and “steady-state; conditions”, and “is not intended to determine the maximum vehicle sound levels.” So not only does the bill not ban “Aftermarket and Loud Pipes” it will be enforced by a regulation that does not determine the “maximum sound levels”. The way I interpret this a vehicle being tested is running at idle, as no load (RPM) standards are mentioned.

If you haven’t gone to the link for SAE J1169, yet, you should know that the regulation was to be altered in 2007 that would require a 3\4 maximum engine rating speed. This version of the standard was cancelled acknowledging that newer cars were designed to not allow this rpm load level while stationary. SAE acknowledges that J1169 (May 1988) is inadequate and a new standard J1492 seems to be a work in progress. Regardless HB2150 will be enforced on the current standards and therefore doesn’t ban “Loud Pipes” or aftermarket exhaust products. It allows vehicles that currently are within the laws of West Virginia to remain as loud as they want, as long as when they are parked at your curb, or at a stop light they do not exceed 95db. 95db is the standard the industry builds their exhaust to. (Hence the NIH claim of a universal motorcycle rating of 95db.)


So what does this bill actually do? This bill does two things as I see it. 1) If you have ever bought aftermarket exhaust equipment it will often say that it is “50 state street legal.” That can be as accurate or vague as the term Organic. If something is made to the strictest standards, in regards to emissions, if its California legal its everywhere legal. On the other hand noise is a different regulation altogether. It varies by state. If it becomes law HB2150 will set a stated limit to which manufacturers already conform. 2) Secondly this proposed bill will remove the subjective nature from the citation. If a police officer believes your vehicle to be too loud, in many states, he can write you a citation for “Excessive or Unusual Noise”. HB2150 section a) shows that is the current law in West Virginia. HB2150 section c) will require “Unless proven by proper authorities.”Athorities that are utilizing the methodology set forth in SAE J1169. Further if you are found in violation of the statute, you may find the need for section d).

d) A court may dismiss any action for which a person is prosecuted for operating a vehicle in violation of subsection (c) of this section if it is found that the defendant had reasonable grounds to believe that the vehicle was not operated in violation of this section.


In English that means if you bought something that claimed it was legal and it was later found not to be via the SAE test regulations you could avoid the penalty.

This brings us back to SEMA. Gary Howell is an auto enthusiast, an aftermarket parts supplier, SEMA member, and the Chairman of a committee that organizes and creates legislation such HB2150. When we car enthusiast think of SEMA we think of the car show in Vegas and that’s it. In reality SEMA is more like the NRA for auto enthusiast’s.

“SEMA keeps close tabs on legislators in Washington D.C., and also in each state within the United States, so SEMA members and anyone who loves cars and trucks can protest pending legislation that might harm our hobby, as well as endorse legislation that’s good for car lovers.”


As I looked through Google results you quickly see that not only is the “SEMA model legislation” being represented in West Virginia by Mr. Howell and his co-presenters through HB2150 similarly worded legislation has passed in California, and failed in Hawaii. Check SEMA’s site to see the status of your state and be aware that environmentalist groups as well as anti-noise advocates would like to have your gas guzzling, lead burning, noise making cars, trucks, and bikes banned outright. Know your rights and your local laws before you buy those mod parts and find your representative on that “Legeslators who support the Hobby” linked above. And if you live in West Virginia call or write Mr. Howell to thank him for his support. He can probably use it. The internet is full of people that would react to the original post without doing all this research

Author can be found on Twitter @I’m_JustJim

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