April 28, 2008

Sarasota, Florida – A new law, up for a final vote next month, would grant police in Sarasota the authority to impound vehicles found playing their stereos too loud and charge up to $650 in fines for repeat violators.

Not surprisingly, the law has proven controversial. On one side of argument, there’s the older residents in the community that complain about the ubiquitous culture of pimped out audio systems whose bass shakes the windows of homes as the Fast and the Furious lookalike cars drive by. They applaud the effort to get the volumes down to a reasonable level that doesn’t disturb anyone else and have called the law “long overdue.”

On the other side, there’s the younger residents, who spend thousands on car audio components to hear their music at peak volumes, showcase their financial success or to just vie for attention via thundering bass and super-chromed rims. They feel the punishment exceeds the crime and have been voicing their disgust over the law in online forums.

The concern of these “scafflaws” is joined by other citizens who feel the new law grants local police too much discretionary authority which may be used to harass or intimidate younger adults or minority groups. Under the law, police can stop drivers if they can hear the music 25 feet away.

Granting citations to residents for noise violations isn’t new to Sarasota. Last year, the police department issued 282 citations for loud stereos. Each citation costs drivers $74.50, an amount increased by up to 770 percent under the proposed law – plus any charges related to towing and impound.

If you haven’t decided by now which side of the argument you side with, consider this scenario: It’s 3 am and you’re almost home from a long drive. You’ve been visiting your family in Atlanta and are exhausted. To avoid falling asleep at the wheel, you open the windows and crank up the music volume. As you drive past the center of town, you pass a police car. You’re not speeding, but within seconds you see the flashing lights pull up behind you and you begin slowing down and pulling to the shoulder of the road.

The officer informs you that your volume is too loud. You try to explain, telling him that the reason the volume is so high is to avoid falling asleep and crashing into a small house. He curtly tells you you should’ve gotten a hotel along the way, issues you a ticket for $650 dollars, and calls a tow-truck to tow your car away. An hour later, you’re stranded on the road and forced to call a cab for a ride to the impound lot where you pay $100 to get your car back. By the time you get home, it’s 5 a.m. and you’re down $750, a night’s sleep, and notice a scratch on your bumper from the tow truck.

Granted, no one wants to be woken up by loud noise at 3 am but we’re all forced to live with such disturbances. Garbage trucks smash metal bins at 6 am, buses roll by vibrating windows and doors, sirens wail at all hours, Harley Davidson motorcycles thunder by, and kids scream at one another before the birds have begun chirping wildly. Should we fine all of them? Of course not. And even if we do selectively punish those who make a racket without serving a civic need, the punishment should fit the crime. So if a cop isn’t going to issue a $650 speeding ticket to a reckless driver, he shouldn’t have the authority to fine and confiscate the car of a music enthusiast – however vain and inconsiderate that person may be.

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