By Dom Nozzi
Emergency vehicle sirens (such as firetrucks and ambulances) have become an enormous source of town center noise pollution. So much so as to have created a 24/7 “war zone” atmosphere which is so intolerable that it chases untold numbers of otherwise interested town center residents to suburban locations. Such sirens are, of course, highly detrimental to the quality of life of those who remain in the town center.
Siren noise pollution has grown exponentially in recent times in part because of the ever-higher decibel levels of the sirens, the absence of leadership in elected office throughout the US (in this case exemplified by elected officials not having the wisdom or courage to control excessive siren use), and the growth in the number of events that lead such vehicle occupants to deploy sirens.
Another important factor that leads to siren overuse is the “safetyism” sickness. “Safetyism” is a term used by sociologist Jonathan Haidt to describe the concept of extreme suboptimizing on safety that we see particularly in the US. So extreme that in important ways overemphasis on safety has – ironically – undermined safety (for example, by reducing natural human defense/immune systems) and so destroyed community peace and quiet that it has severely degraded quality of life.
An important reason why sirens are used excessively in our communities is that almost none of us think we can do anything about it (or that we think doing so will harm public safety).
In fact, many communities have shown that it IS possible to limit siren noise to tolerable levels, and that doing so has no impact on public safety.
Emergency vehicles can use alternating high pitch/low pitch sirens, as is done in much of Europe.
Government regulation can obligate a reduction in the maximum allowable decibel level for sirens (decibel levels are much higher now than they were in the past), or set an upper limit on how loud sirens can be.
Local government policy can require that no continuous siren use is allowed during the entirety of an emergency vehicle run. Sirens are only allowed when there is a vehicle ahead which is obstructing the emergency vehicle, or when the emergency vehicle is approaching a red light at a signalized intersection.
Local government policy can require that no siren be used by an ambulance when transporting a patient that does not have a medical emergency.
Local government policy can require that emergency vehicles are only allowed to use major access routes when such routes contain few or no residences along the route.
To create disincentives for emergency vehicles to overuse their sirens, local government policy can require that emergency vehicles have siren decibel levels be as high inside the vehicle as outside the vehicle.
If there is insufficient leadership in elected office, a half-step toward siren sanity is to keep the status quo, but implement some or all of above tactics between 10 pm and 6 am.