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Loud pipes save lives” is a popular refrain put forth by motorcyclists as a defense of the engine and exhaust noise coming from their large or modified bikes. Many riders assert that this is a good thing because, the louder their bike, the more likely it’ll be noticed by other drivers with whom they’re sharing the road. So, in other words, a loud bike is a safer bike.

But, are loud motorcycles safer? This is a misconception held by many riders because louder motorcycles are not safer than quieter ones. According to North America’s best-known study on motorcycle safety, the Hurt Report, published in 1981, motorcycles with loud pipes were not less likely to be involved in crashes. In fact, the study found that they were at a slightly higher risk for being involved in a crash. 

The theory behind the defense of loud pipes by many riders is that, because car drivers can hear them and will then drive more cautiously, they’re safer. However, the Doppler Effect would suggest otherwise.

The science behind it

The Doppler Effect is the apparent difference between the frequency at which sound or light waves leave a source and that at which they reach an observer, caused by the relative motion of the observer and the wave source. Putting it more simply, you may hear loud motorcycles approaching, but you won’t be able to hear much of the noise they’re making until they’re next to you or have passed you. 

In fact, Europe’s Motorcycle Accidents In-Depth Study (MAIDS) determined that a substantial majority of motorcycle collisions come from the front of the bike. So, if you’re relying on your loud pipes to warn cars that you’re approaching, you could be putting yourself into a dangerous situation because, by the time the driver knows you’re there, it may be too late.

One thing that is known to have an effect on motorcyclist safety is prolonged exposure to noise or “noise fatigue.”  This prolonged exposure to loud noise can result in hearing loss which, in turn, will reduce your ability to perceive and to react to audible danger signs. In addition, that hearing loss could impair your “performance in spatial attention” because of background noise.

Riders have known about the danger of noise fatigue for many years. A great many of them wear earplugs when they ride or purchase helmets that have noise-reducing features or do both.

Quiet those pipes

While some riders will stick to their defense of loud pipes as a safety feature, it would appear that the statistics from the aforementioned studies don’t support their claims. Loud motorcycles are not safer, and loud pipes don’t save lives. Riders need to make sure that car drivers can see them by turning on their headlights or wearing brightly colored safety gear.

Loud pipes have become annoying to the general public as well as business owners who claim that they have a direct impact on quality of life. In addition, they can give riders a false sense of confidence about their safety which can result in dangerous riding conditions. 

Take a few minutes to check out some motorcycle near miss stories from riders.