Vehicle Noise Pollution

 In Environmental Law

As someone who lives near the flight path of the Ottawa International Airport, I have noticed that since the pandemic, the world has gotten much quieter.  Whereas before, the frequency of plans flying overhead lead to them being virtually unnoticed, now, every plane passing by is ear shattering.

I have also noticed an increase in noise pollution from souped up vehicles, which seem to be multiplying daily.  It is rare that you are outside and don’t hear a car passing with a roaring engine, backfiring all the way.  I personally do not understand why anyone would want their car to emit such sounds, but I do not profess to be a car buff.

The City of Ottawa has a noise by-law (By-Law 2017-255) which contains two provisions dealing with vehicle noise of this type:

Section 15 – Unnecessary motor vehicle noise

No person shall cause or permit unnecessary motor vehicle noise such as the sounding of the horn, revving of engine and the squealing of tires of any motor vehicle on any property other than a highway.

Section 17 – Mufflers

No person shall discharge into the open air, on any property other than a highway, the exhaust of any motor vehicle except through a muffler or other device which effectively prevents loud or explosive noises.

A highway is defined in the By-Law as a common and public highway, so that provides no real assistance in respect of vehicles that have left the driveway.

However, s. 75(1) of the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, also addresses excessive noise:

Every motor vehicle or motor assisted bicycle shall be equipped with a muffler in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise and excessive smoke, and no person shall use a muffler cut-out, straight exhaust, gutted muffler, hollywood muffler, by-pass or similar device upon a motor vehicle or motor assisted bicycle.

While it does not appear that drivers of these modified vehicles in Ottawa are concerned about the noise they are creating or any risk of penalty, the Ottawa Police announced on June 23, 2020 that they were launching a blitz called “Operation #Noisemaker” to crack down on excessive noise caused by vehicles with modified exhaust systems.  Over the previous weekend, 55 tickets were handed out for excessive noise or improper mufflers.

Last summer, the City of Toronto carried out its own crackdown on excessive vehicle noise.  It also enacted a noise by-law dealing expressly with motor vehicle noise:

591-2.5(A) No person shall emit or cause or permit the emission of sound resulting from unnecessary motor vehicle noise, such as the sounding of a horn, revving of an engine, squealing of tires, banging, clanking or any like sound that is clearly audible at a point of reception.

It would appear that excessive vehicle noise is attracting the attention of municipalities and enforcement.  A reduction of this excessive noise would not only lessen disruption to the surrounding environment, but could also reduce the potential of damage to hearing caused by such noise.

This blog post was written by Cheryl Gerhardt McLuckie, a member of the Environmental Law team.  Cheryl can be reached at 613-369-0365 or at

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