Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Dose of 102 Decibels

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The sound level meter reads 102.4 decibels (dB) measured about 12 feet away from the blaring amplifier. The measurement was made at 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30. The non-stop noise disturbs residents, business owners and customers for more than four hours every Saturday. The broken D.C. noise law provides no limits on non-commercial amplified speech between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Free speech is a right. Making unlimited noise with an amplifier should not be, as it apparently is in the District of Columbia. It is an issue of health and safety.

Several neighbors and I scraped together $80 for a handheld Extech sound level meter. It gauges the loudness of sound, which is measured in decibels (dB). The city noise inspector at the Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs used a similar device when he issued three separate citations to one noisemaking group at H and 8th St. However, those citations were thrown out after the D.C. Office of Attorney general pointed out the loophole in the city statute.

So, just how loud is 102.4 dB like I measured at H and 8th Streets NE Saturday?

According to the League for Hard of Hearing, here are points of reference measured in decibels:

0 dB: The softest sound a person can hear with normal hearing
10 dB: normal breathing
20 dB: whispering at 5 feet
30 dB: soft whisper
40 dB: quiet residential area
50 dB: rainfall
60 dB: normal conversation
85 dB: heavy traffic, noisy restaurant
90 dB: power lawnmower
100 dB: factory machinery
110 dB: rock concert, shouting in ear
120 dB: thunder

And is 102 dB dangerous to human ears? Absolutely. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety says without proper hearing protection, exposure to 103 dB for less than eight minutes may cause hearing loss. Most people wait longer than that at intersection’s four bus stops.

The city council must fix the broken noise law to protect health and safety for all residents. Clearly, it’s an important issue--it's time for the councilmembers to have their hearing checked.


Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

Now you're getting high tech on us!

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you providing this information to your ANC commissioner and your city council member? Are any government officials receptive to you?

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, are you kidding? Klav has been doing this blog for almost two years and has consistently tried to get the council to change the law. His ANC commisioner is on board, but the DC Council is not. Hopefully, the new members will see this as an "Opportuntiy to excel" rather than say one thing and do another like past council members.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Klav said...


Many people focus on the speech content's ability to offend--which always is subjective.

However the noise level meter provides an objective measurment of the purpose of our quest--disturbing and disruptive level of amplified noise.


2:41 PM  
Blogger Klav said...

Quest for Quiet gains more readers each day. For new folks unfamiliar with this long saga, here's a quick summary of all the support in favor of fixing the noise. Now why the city council won't do anything is the question that must be asked:

* Residents, police, ANCs, OAG, DCRA and DDOT convened a community meeting and invited the noisemakers to find a workable solution for all parties. The noisemakers--most do not live in D.C.--did not appear;

* Before the D.C. OAG pointed out the flawed noise statute, a DCRA noise inspector with a decibel meter cited one noisemaking group three separate times;

* Affected residents and businesses have written to Chairman Graham;

* ANC6A voted unanimously to urge the city council to fix the law;

* ANC6C voted unanimously to urge the city council to fix the law;

* I testified before Chairman Graham's committee on Nov. 3, 2005 about how the noise negatively impacts the community;

* A Voice of the Hill newspaper editorial urged the city council to fix the law;

* H and 8th ST NE neighbors rented an amplifier and for two hours at the intersection of Wisconsin and N Streets NW demonstrated how a thriving community is negatively affected by hours of amplified speech.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do these folks have a "ready to provide" public space permit??

3:03 PM  
Blogger Klav said...

While it's confusing, apparently, D.C. does not require a permit if you are on public space, not blocking the right of way, and are not "marching." A related blog posting:

5:49 PM  
Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...


Can I borrow that sound meter to see what my dobro can kick out? Perhaps I could compete with the thugs on your corner...

10:30 AM  
Blogger Klav said...

Sure, LB, come on over...

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have problems with the B.I. group in NYC, too. As co-chair of our local community board committee I'm trying to get something done, but it's complicated by a 1998 ACLU case:

I'm an adamant believer in First Amendment rights, but not longer and louder than allowed by local law.

Two days ago these people screamed into bullhorns from 8 am to 10 pm, until I summoned the police. I live a block away and 300 feet above street level -- yet I could not carry on a conversation in my apartment for 14 hours.

To my mind, this constitutes THEIR violation of MY First Amendment rights.

Thanks for quantifying your experience with a decibel meter. It may help us fight this nuisance.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Klav said...


Our neighborhood can empathize with your plight. Yes, a decibel meter is an objective measure of "loudness." Also, I've found much supporting legal foundation in the 1949 Supreme Court Decision "Kovacs v. Cooper." Find it here:

3:20 PM  
Blogger Gettin It In said...

thanks! i'm watching the saints v. vikings game, and they showed a sound meter reading 102, so i wanted to have some comparison. you're the first google result for '102 decibels'.

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm watching the saints and vikings on DVR....(i'm a little behind).... And I also googled "102 decibels" and this was the first that came up. helped me (and my girlfriend) realize that 102 decibels seems pretty intense. Good luck with the city ordinance people....seems like a real pain in the rear.....

7:53 PM  

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