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Boom Cars: Noise Pollution at its Worst

Daniel Raichel -
Graduate Center of the City University of New York
New York, NY

Popular version of paper 4aED2
Presented Thursday Morning, December 7, 2000
ASA/NOISE-CON 2000 Meeting, Newport Beach, CA

Boom cars, sometimes referred to as "boomers," are vehicles that have stereo sound equipment installed specifically to generate excruciatingly loud sound levels. Because the market is so lucrative, particularly among automobile owners under 30 years of age, manufacturers aggressively engage in promotion of ultra-high power amplifiers, auxiliary bass drivers, midrange drivers, tweeters, crossovers, etc. The typical boomer enthusiast is identified as usually being male under the age of thirty, in the middle or lower socio-economic stratum, with little education beyond high school level. Boomer systems are usually operated at levels that generate a high degree of annoyance in residential neighborhoods, which constitutes a problem of increasing proportions. Loudness competitions are held; and levels as high as 170 dB have been reported. Much advertising emphasizes loudness---for example, a TV spot shows a van's sound system shattering store windows as it speeds down a street. Quality of sound reproduction, i.e, high fidelity, rarely figures prominently in the setup of a boom system.

Contrary to boom car enthusiasts' popular belief that intense low frequencies would not harm hearing (program contents are often devoid of higher frequencies), medical research has proven that "feeling" the music can lead to physiological trauma, causing disruptions of proper bodily functions and even resulting in death.

Castelo Branco, M.D. of the Center for Human Performance in the Neurological Services of Capchos Hospital in Lisbon conducted major research on the deleterious effects of high intensity sound on humans, and this led to the concept of "vibroacoustics syndrome" by J.J. Guignard (1992). The research has indicated occurences of visual problems, epilepsy, stroke-type neurological deficiences and psychic disturbances (e.g., anxiety, depression, and hostile behavior). H. Nakamuro et al. in 1990 demonstrated that whole body sound vibrations can cause homeostatic imbalance. Given the reality of the size and mass of a human body, a critical frequency or a set of critical frequencies must exist, resulting in very major physiological trauma and even death.

The phenomenon of boom cars compares to tobacco addiction---a danger to vehicle occupants and a nuisance to "secondary" listeners. Countermeasures against such public nuisances include: 1) enactment and diligent enforcement of municipal laws specifying limitations on discernable sound levels, 2) education in schools systems on the dangers of excessive noise levels, and 3) public criticism of manufacturers' promotional efforts which emphasize extremely high sound power.

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