I have a friend who lives in the east end of downtown Toronto. One day this week she woke up at 3:30 a.m. to the piercing sound of racing motorcycles.
My friend doesn’t reside next to a motor speedway. Her house is on a comfortable residential street. The noise that woke her was coming from the Don Valley Parkway, several blocks away. All the same, it was loud enough to break her sleep, leaving her feeling tired and more than a little irked.
She has been noticing the rise of racing noise since at least last summer. She got so upset that she sent a letter of complaint to the chief of police. She simply can’t understand why the cops don’t do more to curb the problem.
My friend is far from the only one who feels that way. Street-racing and the racket that comes with it are a growing problem in Canadian cities. On some nights in Toronto, it sounds as if an IndyCar rally is under way. People driving fast bikes and muscle cars take to the streets en masse, racing each other or just bombing along the highway on their own.
It’s dangerous, of course. Racing and stunt driving have caused some horrific crashes in recent years. It’s terribly loud, too.
In my part of town, in Toronto’s west end, you can hear a steady noise like the sound of angry bees filtering up from the Gardiner Expressway, and I live a good two kilometres away – again, on a quiet residential street.
It isn’t happening just on the highways, either. Loud cars and motorbikes roar along city streets, too, drowning out conversation. Not only are they breaking city bylaws designed to limit noise pollution, they are violating the unwritten compact that helps all of us get along in busy urban environments. Their burping mufflers and roaring engines say to everyone else: We don’t care. We don’t care if our clamour wakes you up in the night. We don’t care if it interrupts the chat you’re having on the patio. We just don’t care.
Living in a big city, you learn to accept a certain amount of background noise – the rumbling of streetcars, the growl of garbage trucks, the scream of ambulance sirens, the rattle of hospital helicopters, even the thrum of car speakers. It’s an inescapable part of urban life.
This is something different. Street racing is illegal and often deadly. It’s become routine, especially since the pandemic started, to see bikes or cars weaving in and out of highway lanes as if they were out on the race track instead of in the middle of mixed traffic. The noise is something awful.
Many motorbike and muscle-car enthusiasts equip their vehicles with special mufflers and exhaust systems – again, illegal. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act prohibits muffler cut-outs, gutted mufflers, straight exhausts, Hollywood mufflers, by-passes and other sound-boosting devices. So these drivers are not flouting the law inadvertently. They are setting out deliberately to flout it.
Authorities say they are aware of the problem and are trying to fix it. Even before the pandemic, back in 2019, Toronto carried out an enforcement blitz against noisy motorists. Police handed out scores of citations for revving engines and having illegal mufflers. Last year, the provincial government increased the penalties for street racing and stunt driving.
In a recent report, Toronto city staff said that bylaw officers were working with police to “enhance” further noise blitzes, focusing on parts of the city where they are hearing lots of complaints about the issue. It recommended that city council ask the province to toughen penalties for vehicle-noise infractions, adding demerit points for drivers who are cited. City staff are also working to educate car mechanics about noise-making modifications, reminding them that such changes are against the law.
Is it enough, though? After her restless night, my pal in the east end complained to her city councillor, who was responsive and sympathetic, but she still isn’t convinced the authorities are taking the problem at all seriously. She is quite right about that.
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