By Wilma Bedford
How much noise is too much and what are your rights?
Unless you intentionally seek out quietness, you are surrounded by sound virtually every moment of the day, from the quiet noise of your refrigerator, the radio or TV, street noise to industrial noise, and at home you grapple with recreational noise of the teenager’s personal audio systems, to fitness centres, bars, restaurants, promotions, sports meetings and night clubs, but do we really realise what damage deafening sound can do to our hearing organs or mental health?
Although sound such as quiet music has a physically beneficial effect in that it makes the brain secrete dopamine, sound can also cause neurological damage, like tinnitus, which is a side-effect of long periods of exposure to dangerously high sound frequencies. Tinnitus, the most common sound damage, is a neurological problem that causes miscommunication between the sound-damaged sensory cells, and the result is a permanent hissing in the ears.
This is, however, not the only neurological consequences; stress, cardiovascular diseases and cognitive impairment are also consequences of auditive tension, caused by music, street noise, airplanes or power tools. Exposure to noise over 85 dB is dangerous and everything over 120 dB is extremely dangerous. An ordinary rock concert is 115 dB on average, but the later and darker it gets, the higher the decibels.
Why is music played at levels that people experience as too loud?
The social importance of music is clear at rallies, where it is used to bond people and form group coherence as at rock concerts and political meetings.
Music makes one feel positive, cheerful, energetic and good, especially if a person has a good association with the music, which activates the same good associations.
Loud music blocks unpleasant and unwelcome thoughts, you shift your stress to the sound and thereby the bad emotions disappear. By choosing your own loud music you gain control over your own personal space in the sense that external sounds are eliminated.
Loud music wakens the primal animal in you – the fight-or-flee instinct – but in humans adrenalin is motivating in the sense that you want to make your body move, either on the dance floor or in the gym. The loud sound vibrating through the body is a pleasant feeling.
Music creates a new social milieu within which a larger group of friends or strangers can socialise with each other; it creates group cohesion through the mutual enjoyment or sharing of music and members of a group feel included when the music is loud.
As in the case of social drinking, loud music weakens inhibitions. Loud music, especially in night clubs, promotes intimacy precisely because audible conversation is impossible and also because nobody can eavesdrop on an intimate conversation.
Loud music and sounds emphasise and confirm a personal identity. In Australian research male respondents said that loud music or sounds emphasise masculinity, as with car sounds – who is more masculine? It also creates an impression of coolness. The sound of a crosscut saw makes you feel masculine and strong – it is the primal animal that speaks where loud sounds have caused fear and trembling among the herd.
When is sound no longer safe?
Sounds under 70 dB are safe, and a normal conversation takes place at 30 dB.
Your air-conditioner, traffic and lawn mower generate 80–85 dB and two hours’ exposure will be harmful. A motor cycle at 90–95 dB for one hour is unsafe while a train or 15 minutes at a sports meeting in a stadium will expose you to 100 dB. Fifteen minutes on your smartphone earphones at a maximum volume of 110 dB would be a dangerous level, while 120 dB at a rock concert will definitely cause you harm.
What does one do when music or sounds not only disturbs your peace but affects you physically and mentally?
You can have a conversation with your teenager and come to an agreement, but what do you do about your neighbours’ dogs, their infighting that you have to listen to, their regular late-night carousing, their TV, their back-yard working?
The law differentiates between disturbing noise, which is objective and scientifically measurable, and noise nuisance, which is subjective and is defined as any noise that disturbs, harms and affects the comfort and peace of any person.
Disturbing noise like loud music that is played all night, resorts under the municipal bye-laws, but the municipality will focus on the decibels rather than the time of the night that the disturbance takes place. Noise nuisance is always illegal and includes dogs that bark, the orchestra practising for tonight’s show, the TV that is too loud, machinery and power tools, loud talking and shouting, cars and motorcycle noise, and the firing of fireworks.
The most cost-effective way of solving the noise problem is to approach the offender directly as courteously as possible to find a joint solution. If this does not provide a solution a written complaint must be lodged with the police. The law enforcers should investigate the matter, determine how serious the complaint is, insist that the noise stop, levy a fine and even remove the source of the noise.
Should the noise persist, you can get legal aid where the transgressors are again warned and asked to stop, or an interdict against the transgressors can be obtained. You will have to prove to the law enforcers everything you have done to find a solution and that the noise is handicapping your general wellbeing, your health and your quality of life.
If there is still no end to the noise the neighbour can be found guilty of contempt of court and be sentenced to a stiff fine or imprisonment.
The law enforcers will, however, take up a position that a certain amount of inconvenience and irritation from a neighbouring site must be endured.
“Turn Down for What”—The Invisible Toll of Music That’s Too Loud
Pranav Trewn September 6, 2021 HEALTH BehAVIOURAL sCIENTIST https://behavioralscientist.org/turn-down-for-what/
Why do people like loud sound? A qualitative study. Welch, D., & Fremaux, G. (2017). International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(8), 908
How Loud Is Too Loud? Doctors and Club Owners on Hearing Loss and Volume By Molly Beauchemin https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/215-how-loud-is-too-loud-doctors-and-club-owners-on-hearing-loss-and-volume/
Noise – Know your rights as a neighbour
GOLEGAL Industry news and Insights. https://www.golegal.co.za/noise-nuisance-neighbourirights/Noise-Knowyourrightsasaneighbour