The City Council aims to cool tensions between residents, but motorcycle advocates argue the measure misses the mark
Updated July 13, 2021
By Kali Kotoski
A strict new noise ordinance passed by Moab’s City Council in late April— if fully enforced — would unfairly target local motorcyclists in the area, claim advocates that see the ordinance as heavy-handed, predatory and potentially devastating to riding opportunities in eastern Utah.
They also say that the ordinance does not address the root causes of the problems, nor works to find a fair solution based on real-world sound testing.
After years of surging recreational tourism largely fueled by the growing popularity of UTVs, noise pollution has become one of the most controversial issues in Moab, dividing the community with some residents looking to cast blame on all OHVs while motorcycle riders insist that practical regulations can cool temperatures without infringing on motorcyclist’s rights, explained Clif Koontz, executive director of the nonprofit Ride with Respect. Meanwhile, tourism-related OHV businesses worry that harsh restrictions could cap growth potential.
“Noise has been a legitimate concern in Moab for decades, but the issue became critical in 2015 with the influx of UTV riders on the streets,” Koontz said. “We need pragmatic and enforceable solutions like stationary sound testing, but that needs to account for differences in vehicle types because UTVs operate at consistently higher RPMs and generate more sound.”
By lumping all vehicle types into a single stationary standard, the ordinance winds up being stricter towards motorcycles and automobiles than they are towards UTVs, he added.
The Moab City Council on April 27 voted to adopt a noise ordinance for all vehicles stricter than nationally-recognized standards, with additional restrictions during the nighttime and on weekends.
The council agreed to a 92-decibel limit following an adoption of the same level by Grand County officials a week prior. While the Moab 92 dBa limit is in effect between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the window is shortened to 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays. Nighttime limits drop drastically to 85 dBa with no seasonal changes. Street-legal OHVs, including motorcycles, would be tested for compliance using a stationary test with the engine revved to 50 percent of its maximum RPM, according to the ordinance. The ordinance also sets other specific decibel limits for tests from 25 and 50 feet away.
The Moab City Council argues that the 92 dBa limit is achievable because most stock OHVs can meet this standard, or can be modified to meet it with aftermarket parts.
“I do feel like if this noise ordinance can reinstate confidence in our relationship between residents and the motorized recreation community, then it’s a good thing,” said Mayor Emily Niehaus during the April 27 meeting.
In practice, Koontz explained, the nighttime limit of 85 dBa would give law enforcement officers license to pull over any motorcycle rider to perform a sound test, which would be a strain on resources and act as an arbitrary “curfew.” Additionally, Koontz thinks the 92 dBa limit for UTVs is “reasonable” using aftermarket modifications, but when applied to motorcycles it is too stringent.
“In reality, the 92 dBa limit using a stationary test at half of maximum RPM for a motorcycle doesn’t make sense because ricers can practically idle through town,” he said. “Of course, there are a few bad apples who we want to help reform, and the most effective strategy would to be follow recognized standards and similar policies in neighboring states.”
Ride with Respect, like the American Motorcyclist Association, endorses a limit of 96 dBA identified by Society of Automotive Engineers for on-highway motorcycles under SAE J2825 and under SAE J1287 for off-highway motorcycles as a reasonable standard for sound measurement and as a way to ensure economic growth for local, tourism-oriented businesses. Those standards are the industry-accepted benchmark and are nationally accepted. The Moab ordinance sets a standard even lower than states such as California, Washington and New Hampshire.
“Numerous states follow J2825 and J1287 and they have proven to work. Those states also reduce confusion, as the 96 dBa limit is met by all stock motorcycle mufflers and many aftermarket ones,” Koontz said.
Ahead of the April 27 vote, the AMA put out an Action Alert on April 26 calling on concerned motorcyclists to contact Moab officials in opposition of the local ordinance. Hundreds of motorcyclists followed through to voice their concerns. However, according to an Op-Ed by Samantha Bonsack, a local motorcycle safety advocate and owner of a motorcycle tourism company, published in the Moab Times-Independent, concerns went ignored.
“[The AMA] provided a well-written letter for riders to add personal comments to and send in to be counted in the public comments. I was one of over 300 riders who did so, only to see them discounted by city and county officials, not included in the public record, and even characterized as ‘spam,’” Bonsack wrote.
“When laws are made overly strict, especially when they’re specific to profiled groups like motorcyclists, it creates a perfect storm for a profile-prone officer to enforce an ordinance as written for all riders, rather than as intended for only blatant violators,” she added.
This article first appeared in the July edition of American Motorcyclist.