I was in Foodland the other day picking up some poke and beer when I encountered a woman conducting a loud, profanity-laced cell phone conversation in the fresh produce section. Something to do with someone getting out of prison.

Other shoppers noticed, too, and we were taken aback not only by the call but by the presence of her companion pushing two toddlers in a cart. One of the kids was bawling, and I could relate.

I hate unnecessary noise — people talking loudly on phones in public places, Beyoncé blaring from store PA systems, leaf-blowers instead of rakes and brooms.

I’m the kind of guy who shells out $500 for Bose headphones to cancel airplane noise (but not wailing tots, unfortunately), who believes white-noise machines were made by The Creator and who takes a sleeping pill and battens down the the hatches at 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Yep, I’m a party pooper. But I am pleased to discover that I am not alone. A website and blog called Quieter Oahu has been “taking a stand against noise” across the state for nearly eight years now.

“It goes without saying that the motorcycles are completely out of control, there are more unregulated ‘Boom Cars’ with their ridiculously loud stereos than ever before, and HPD seems to be doing even less to enforce the few regulations we have to stem the tide of noise, noise, noise,” says Quieter Oahu.

I only learned about the website/blog from an email last month explaining that the organization had updated noise reference manuals for all four counties.

It’s fascinating reading and includes tips on which government agency is best to contact when unwanted noise irritates your tympanic membrane. (Mainly, it’s the Honolulu Police Department via 911.)

The Oahu manual includes a history of noise programs in Hawaii (“Prior to the 1970s, there was no governmental activity addressing noise pollution”) and a lot of useful noise nuggets, like these:

  • The FAA does not have rules governing noise levels emanating from aircraft operations.
  • Boom boxes are regulated by City and County of Honolulu Ordinance.
  • Churches have no special protections when it comes to the freedom of religion.
  • Commercial delivery trucks are required by law to operate a backup alarm when their rear view is obstructed.
  • Hospitals are quiet zones “where people need their rest in order to recover from what ails them.”
  • Ice cream trucks need permits to play those annoying songs that get the kids running.
  • An “animal nuisance” is when an animal (mainly dogs and fowl) makes noise continuously for a period of 10 minutes or intermittently for 30 minutes “to the disturbance of any person at any time.”

Let’s Talk About Shutting Up

Quieter Oahu is proactive. It seeks to foster a public dialogue on noise pollution, propose remedies and put citizens in contact with City Council members and legislators.

There are hyperlinks to our statutes and laws as well as to like-minded groups such as the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (slogan: ”Good neighbors keep their noise to themselves”). The nonprofit NPC notes that 98 percent of the mainland U.S. experiences highway noise.

“Never confront a suspected violator personally or take any action that would create personal risk.”

There is also a decibel table ranging from a whisper (30 dBA) to a lawnmower (85-90 dBA), and from a jackhammer (110 dBA) to the noise level when an eardrum will be perforated (160 dBA, which is just 20 dBA above a jet engine in close proximity).

And, while Quieter Oahu is all about “taking back some quiet,” it also offers this very sound advice: “Never confront a suspected violator personally or take any action that would create personal risk.”

Sure is tempting, though. I’ve often fancied throwing an object into the spokes of a moped spewing pandemonium from a modified exhaust pipe or muffler. Makes me feel good just thinking about it.

Lastly, Quieter Oahu’s blog is a place to vent and get a sympathetic hearing. Here’s a typical post, this one from Oct. 27:

Comment: I had finally had enough. The usual quiet here on the North Shore has slowly developed into living next to an airport. 6 private helicopters land and take off repeatedly throughout the day at the stable area at Turtle Bay. Then the military conducts its flyovers throughout the day all over the point. Add the usual Turtle Bay tour helicopters to the mix and I was ready to find some other noise free hideout. Man, what is going on? Are we all supposed to wear ear protection from now on?

Quieter Oahu: Thank you for taking the time to share your observations about escalating noise levels. We completely agree.  

I tried to speak directly with Quieter Oahu, but no such luck. We played phone tag and I lost.

Maybe Mr. Quiet (the voice on the voicemail was male) was worried that I would disturb his quiet space. Reporters can be so annoying.

Noise Control Measures

The fight over noise pollution continues on other fronts.

Two years ago, then-state Rep. Karl Rhoads pushed a bill to “enhance community noise control” via the Honolulu Liquor Commission. The targets were nightclubs in Honolulu, especially Chinatown.

The bill cited the EPA, which “has observed that millions of people nationwide are negatively affected by noise and that studies show a direct link between excessive noise and health issues such as stress-related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity.”

The bill, which quietly died, would have required businesses to keep the maximum decibel level below 60 dBC (high and low frequency sound levels) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and no higher than 50 dBC from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Still, noise control remains a legislative issue. In the 2017 session, the Hawaii Legislature introduced bills to do the following:

The measures went nowhere but carry over to 2018.

I encourage my fellow noise-challenged citizens to rally in the Capitol Rotunda next session. Bring a couple of taiko drummers — that’ll get lawmakers’ attention.

I’ll be the guy in the corner wearing Bose headphones.

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