By Kim Seif
As more noisy cars drive College Park’s streets, they’re driving up complaints, too, prompting the College Park City Council and Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) to explore enforcement options.
During a public safety meeting in July, Major James Keleti, commander of PGPD’s Special Operations Division, confirmed that the number of noise complaints has ticked up.
In response, he is tracking the number of traffic stops specifically related to noise from modified exhausts.
From April 16 to July 8, police stopped 50 vehicles for excessive exhaust noise and issued 26 warnings.
The College Park City Council discussed the problem at a worksession on July 13. College Park Public Services Director Bob Ryan told councilmembers that this is a thorny issue for the city; Chapter 138 of the city code deals with noise levels and violations, but does not apply to moving vehicles. And city code enforcement officers are not authorized to stop and cite vehicles for excessive noise; under state law, only police officers can make these stops.
Maryland law states that every car must have a muffler in good condition that prevents excessive noise. Furthermore, state law does not allow cars with modified mufflers on highways.
Police can issue equipment repair orders when they stop a vehicle with a modified muffler that makes excessive noise; this type of order requires the owner to have the exhaust restored to its original form and have it certified. According to Keleti, issuing this kind of order has been a useful move to combat the excessive noise problem. Between April 16 and July 8, police issued 29 orders for equipment repairs.
During the council meeting, Keleti told councilmembers that police can also issue citations to owners of vehicles that make excessive noise. Keleti stated that police issued 66 such citations between April 16 and July 8 during traffic stops in the city.
Councilmember Fazlul Kabir applauded these efforts but said that the city and the PGPD need to explore additional enforcement options.
“This issue is getting worse,” he said.
Captain Gilbert Bowling, PGPD’s assistant commander, emphasized that excessive exhaust noise is a growing problem in both the county and state.
Kabir cited a joint operation among law enforcement agencies that was conducted in Montgomery County, in April 2021, as an enforcement model that the city could consider. Like Prince George’s County, Montgomery is experiencing an uptick in noise violations. In the joint operation, law enforcement officers were stationed along Maryland Route 355 to make traffic stops for speed and noise violations.
Officers made 118 traffic stops and issued 68 citations, 57 warnings and 49 equipment repair orders. They also made two criminal arrests, according to a press release issued by the City of Gaithersburg.
Keleti said that PGPD conducts operations targeting street racers, who often modify exhaust systems. Keleti noted that these operations have been successful and said that the department may conduct more of them in the future.
Ryan also discussed high-visibility checks that police make at car shows and places where street racers gather.
“Just by having an officer visible in an area where people go and show off their cars sends a message to take it easy and not disturb the peace,” he noted, during the July 13 council meeting.
City code cannot be applied to moving vehicles, but it can be applied to vehicles on private property. Property owners can be fined $500 for a first offense and up to $1000 for a second.
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn emphasized the public’s role in noise abatement. Residents can mail a written complaint about a noise disturbance to the city’s Department of Public Services (8400 Baltimore Avenue, Suite 340), call the city’s hotline (240.487.3588), dial 9-1-1 or call the PGPD non-emergency line (301.352.1200).