By KEVIN BRADY
Yes, you, the one with the bleeding ears from blasting your car stereo at levels that rattle fillings and fuse your few remaining brain cells into a small bowl of Jell-O.
You may want to turn down the radio a tad. The county is finally stepping in to remind you of a lesson your mother imparted a long time ago: It’s bad manners to scream into a stranger’s ear.
The bone-rattling stereos on wheels could be history in Hillsborough County.
Tampa is ready to turn down the volume on loud car stereos, outlawing any stereo that can be heard 50 feet or more from a vehicle. They are already banned in Pinellas County and Sarasota. Now Hillsborough County is ready to take on the “audio terrorists” as critics have dubbed drivers who routinely blast loud music from modified speakers in their cars.
County Commissioner Victor Crist is asking the County Attorney to create a draft ordinance that strengthens the County’s noise ordinance against loud car stereos.
With an eye to existing ordinances in Tampa and Sarasota, Crist is asking county staff to come up with a draft plan to crack down on the loud stereos.
The Pinellas County program encourages the public to report violators by filling out a brief online form. The program generates a letter to the registered owner of the vehicle warning them they have been reported in violation of Pinellas County noise ordinance. The owner is contacted in person by deputies if there are additional complaints.
Those who don’t get the message face fines ranging from $218 for a first offense to $500 for a third offense.
The Tampa ordinance is even tougher with a $250 ticket for first-time offenders. Three or more infractions and violators will be out $500 and wearing an orange jumpsuit for up to 60 days courtesy of Sheriff David Gee.
Calling the booming car stereos “an attack on civilized society,” Judy Ellis said they are more than just an occasional annoyance.
“Imagine being the driver of an emergency vehicle like an ambulance or fire truck and some fool is blasting his stereo at an intersection at 125 decibels, not only can he not hear the siren but other drivers can’t either,” said Ellis, leader of Noise Free Florida and the woman behind the Pinellas County ordinance.
Along with safety concerns, Ellis said the window-rattling stereos also carry health risks, raising blood pressure and giving the body a temporary rush of adrenaline. A Jacksonville man shot and killed a teenager last year after he refused to turn down his car stereo in a parking lot.
“Police need to have a tool like this to protect citizens from this form of pollution,” said Ellis. “It’s unhealthy, unsafe and uncivilized.”
A small subculture of boom cars has blossomed in recent years thanks largely to MTV’s Pimp My Ride, a show where cars are outfitted with high-tech audio equipment. Sound pressure level (SPL) contests are held all over Florida with competitors spending small fortunes trying to out-boom rivals with sound systems that rattle car roofs and are so heavy with bass tones they sound like the Jolly Green Giant with a bad case of gas.
Attempts to lower the boom on loud car stereos were dealt a blow last year when the Florida Supreme Court ruled a ban unconstitutional given there was no similar prohibition against political or commercial broadcasts from vehicles. An effort in the state legislature to tailor a new bill that addressed those concerns failed to get enough votes last week. The Supreme Court ruling was taken into account when drafting the Tampa and Sarasota ordinances.
According to a U.S. Department of Justice report the problem of loud car stereos is more widespread than a simple tally of complaints might reveal.
“Perhaps only 5 to 10 percent of people bothered by any type of noise will file an official complaint, because other factors influence people. Many citizens are not aware of their legal right to quiet and do not know where they can register a complaint,” the report said.
“If somebody goes down the street and has this car that’s rattling the walls and waking up every child and every infant, every sick and elderly person and shift worker and drives through the neighborhood, and when they settle down they drive back an hour later, wake up the neighborhood again, that car will spend time in the impound lot,” said Sarasota Police Chief Peter Abbott earlier this year.