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  • Writer's pictureGirish Karnad

Can Noise Kill?

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

I do not need an alarm to wake me up every morning. The machine gun like rattle of a motorcycle speeding past the road in front of my apartment is more than enough to jolt me from the deepest of slumber.  I turn over and try to catch a few more minutes of sleep, but not for long. The incessant noise of traffic does not give  any respite, even at 6 am in the morning! 

I remember the time we had first moved into this apartment, more than a decade ago. It was quite different at that time. I used to wake up to the chirping of the sparrows, nesting among the bamboo trees in the garden near our house. Today the chirping appears muted in front of the cacophony of traffic. Many sparrows also seem to have made their home elsewhere. Rampant development in the area and the coming up of high rises has destroyed the tranquil of this place. Along with more people, we also have more cars and vehicles around. The schools in the vicinity attract students from outside the locality. With parents dropping their wards to the school in their vehicles, we often see traffic jams early in the morning. 

The noise from traffic is due to two main reasons:

  • Irresponsible and careless honking by the drivers.

  • Sound made by the engines of these vehicles, the worst culprits being school buses, auto-rickshaws, tempos and motorcycles with their silencers removed or modified. 

According to WHO, long term exposure to noise above 67 to 70dB, equivalent to traffic noise can lead to high blood pressure. Chronic noise exposure increases the risk of heart attacks, with people living in high traffic areas nearly 50% more at risk than those living in quieter areas. The reason why noise causes physical harm is the irritation and increased stress, leading to an increase in the stress hormones and rise in heart rate, blood pressure and blood lipids. People with cardiovascular disease are at a higher risk as noise can provoke changes in heart rhythm.

Chronic night time noise above 50dB, which is the level of light traffic, also poses cardiovascular threats. Studies have shown that noise above 30dB can disturb sleep, which itself is a health hazard. Prolonged exposure to noise of a motorcycle engine (90 to 100dB) or a loud car stereo (95 to 140dB) can lead to hearing impairment.

According to the law, recommended noise levels during the day for a vehicle are 75dB in industrial areas, 65dB in commercial areas, 55dB in residential areas and 50dB in silence zones. Ironically, we observe a lot of honking even in front of the schools, which is a silence zone. 

If you get traffic noise inside your home, go for heavy curtains and consider double glazing. Using noise proof windows may be another solution, but they would cause ventilation problems and force you to use the air conditioners more than what is required. Gather the local area citizens to lobby with the police and the municipality. Get the police to deploy traffic wardens for conducting surprise checks during the peak hours and impose heavy penalties on irresponsible honkers. Installation of sound barriers to absorb the noise of traffic should also be considered. 

Noise will not kill you directly. However, it will create enough physiological changes in your body, which can ultimately lead to death. If you are living in a noisy area, do not take things lightly. Take all possible steps to insulate yourself from this menace, even if it means moving to a locality which is not noisy. 

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