Governor signs bill raising fines for loud mufflers

Governor Kathy Hochul was joined by southern Brooklyn community leaders when signing a bill to combat loud mufflers.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a southern Brooklyn lawmaker’s bill Friday invoking harsher penalties for illegal mufflers in an effort to deter the behavior that disturbs communities across the state, especially places where drag racing has become a scourge. 

“Others who feel that they have the ability to assault people in their community with the loud drag racing noise and the loud mufflers on their motorcycles and cars,” Hochul said. “They seem to not care about other people and now we are giving them a message you need to care or else there are financial consequences.” 

The SLEEP (Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution) Act, authored by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, aims to finally combat the longtime annoyance of altered mufflers by raising fines for the violation to $1,000 for cars, and $500 for motorcycles.

“We think $1,000 is gonna hit people,” Gounardes previously told Brooklyn Paper. “If you’re gonna spend a couple hundred bucks souping up your car in the first place, illegally, you should have no problem paying the price for breaking the law. We’re not criminalizing anything new here.”

Another facet of the legislation will bring penalties to auto body shops that sell or install the modified mufflers, with the risk of losing their operating license if found in violation three times. 

While many New Yorkers are used to the constant hum of living in a big city, the muffler noise often comes late at night (top offenders are local drag racers), worsening the issue in more transit-barren parts of the Big Apple that tend to have more drivers.

“When there is voluntary noise, noise does not have to be there, and it assaults your ears at a time when you should be getting the rest your body desperately needs after a long day as a New Yorker,” Hochul said. “Then we have to step up and do something.”

But the governor, who signed the bill at Bensonhurst’s Il Centro, said this is even an issue in her hometown of Buffalo.

“I am familiar with this circumstance because I live in a condo, summer nights, the windows are open and somehow the parking lot outside my house was a favorite spot of drag racing,” Hochul said. “I heard those noises in my own community night after night after night and you put the pillow over your head you close the windows and you just adapt or you have leaders like Maureen [Landers, a local advocate] and our senator who stand up and say ‘No, no longer.’” 

Hochul, who is now being challenged in the 2022 Democratic primary by Brooklynite Letisha James, praised the bill’s Kings County legislators for hearing the concerns of their community and working on substantial remedies. 

“When that quality of life is reduced, some people have the courage to stand up while others don’t engage in the fight but we are here today because of… the advocates who stepped up,” Hochul said. “But then you need to have a partner in government. You need to have someone who listens to you, someone who cares so deeply about this community.” 

Councilmember Justin Brannan thanked his partner in the State Senate for pushing the legislation, which he said was truly introduced by their constituents who brought the problem to their attention. 

“I always say some of the best laws come from someone marching into your office and saying there oughta be a law,” the Bay Ridge councilman said. “When an idea for legislation truly comes from the neighborhood, from the streets, from the neighbors, from the residents, that’s when you know you have a really important piece of legislation.”  

A local activist who supports the legislation said it will not only curb the loud noise but is a step in the fight against reckless driving that is terrorizing their community.

“Modified exhaust systems serve no purpose other than to create fear, chaos and intimidation,” said Maureen Landers, resident and founder of Bay Ridge Advocates Keeping Everyone Safe. “They stem from a culture of aggressive driving that has been tolerated for far too long. The signing and enforcement of the SLEEP Act is a major step in not only reducing noise pollution but in addressing the reckless driving that coexists with modified vehicles.”

The newly passed legislation was originally packaged with another law that would pilot surveillance cameras to catch offenders violating the noise ordinance, which was also sponsored by Gounardes, though it did not pass.