If you own a motorcycle, you’ve probably heard the phrase “loud pipes save lives” a time or two already – and maybe you’ve even repeated it a few times yourself.
It does make a certain amount of sense to think that a loud exhaust system can provide additional safety for a motorcyclist. After all, when the number one safety recommendation you hear seems to be “do everything in your power to make other road users notice you,” loud pipes should be able to help, right? Well, not exactly.
It might have been true, back in the day
Before the advent of in-car air conditioning, loud pipes may have served as an additional warning to drivers that a motorcyclist was near – but modern vehicles are actually quite well-insulated from sound, and drivers typically have their windows up, even in summer. In one of the few studies that have looked at the issue, researchers found that the sound of a motorcycle at its loudest couldn’t be heard at all if it was more than 33 feet away from a passenger vehicle while the windows were up. Even then, it wasn’t tremendously loud – and certainly not loud enough for the average driver to notice.
Inside 33 feet, the motorcycle can gradually be heard as it gets closer to the vehicle in question – but not in time for either the driver of the passenger vehicle or the motorcyclist to react safely to any sudden events. Only a few of the loudest motorcycles tested were audible by the time the front wheel of the motorcycle was level with the rear wheel of the passenger car. In fact, the researchers speculated that the sudden noise from the motorcycle as it rapidly approaches the vehicle could tend to startle or distract the vehicle’s driver. That could make loud pipes an actual detriment.
In terms of road safety for motorcyclists, a better, more comprehensive approach might involve enhancing your visibility through effective lighting, reflective gear and clothing, a bright helmet and defensive driving practices. If you are involved in a motorcycle wreck due to another driver’s mistakes, find out more about your right to compensation for your losses, as you shouldn’t be forced to carry burdens caused by others when you’ve done all you could to stay safe.