Controversy revving in St. John's over vehicle modification laws

·4 min read
Police say they'll step up enforcement of illegally modified vehicles that cause excessive noise. ( - image credit)
Police say they'll step up enforcement of illegally modified vehicles that cause excessive noise. ( - image credit)

This story has been updated.

As the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary prepares to step up enforcement on illegally modified vehicle exhausts, community members on either side of the argument are weighing in.

The emergence of two new Facebook groups — Pipe Up NL and Pipe Down NL — are lobbying efforts in the debate on loud vehicles across the province. The former serves as a forum to support the car community, while the latter calls on the provincial government to stop illegal after-market modifications and excessive noise.

Pipe Up and Pipe Down have about 2,700 and 600 group members respectively.

Ralph Tapper, a member of Pipe Down NL and former mayor of Torbay, said he joined the group after noticing a rapid increase in overly loud vehicles disrupting the peace.

"It's been growing so much over the last several years," Tapper told The St. John's Morning Show on Monday.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

"The word 'excessive' is mentioned in the regulations under the Highway Traffic Act.… But even if you look at the definition of the word 'excessive,' it means 'more than is necessary, normal or desirable.' So this noise is not necessary, obviously it's not normal, and we as a group feel that it's not desirable. That's the key to this whole campaign."

Tapper said he and other members of Pipe Down NL have been working with officials to highlight their concerns and call for action, meeting with the RNC, St. John's Mayor Danny Breen and the provincial government last fall.

"Since then, at least there's been talk at the provincial level and right down the line," he said.

"We sent a resolution that St. John's had passed back in the fall of 2020. We sent that right across the province, and we got tremendous response from everywhere from Labrador to Port aux Basques to Fogo and Fortune.... It's not only a St. John's issue; we got to address that."

It always takes a few people to ruin it for everyone else. - Kirk Miller

While Tapper and members of Pipe Down NL continue to push for enforcement, members of the Pipe Up Facebook group say they hope to use their platform as a way to educate.

"With any story, there's always two sides. So we're just trying to voice out our side of opinion and make everyone aware of it," said Kirk Miller, a car enthusiast and member of Pipe Up NL. "We're trying to show that there's more pros than cons."

When asked to clarify what, if any, pros can come from modifying a vehicle, Miller highlighted that drivers can use the experience as a creative outlet, or in registered racing done at tracks like the Eastbound International Speedway in Avondale or the Targa racing series.

However, he didn't speak to performance or noise in the context of public use.

And while after-market vehicle modification is illegal in Newfoundland and Labrador, certain vehicle parts, like tire rims, car seats and stereos that have passed safety guidelines can be legally purchased.

When asked about his stance on increased police enforcement, he said he believes it's not the right answer to the problem.

"[Police] are trained to be cops, they're not experts in automotive knowledge," he said.

Submitted by Kirk Miller
Submitted by Kirk Miller

Miller said, instead, he would like to see changes to the province's Highway Traffic Act to increase the number of vehicle inspections and help weed out dangerous or illegally modified vehicles on the streets.

"Vehicles that have annual inspections, if they're not safe they can't be put back out on the road....These cars should have annual inspections," he said. "Keep the safe ones on the road and get the unsafe ones of the road."

And while motorcycles and cars are at the root of the issue, he says the actions of a few "bad apples" who take safety risks or modify simply to make their bikes louder shouldn't represent a full community.

"There's some people…who go the cheap route and just do a straight pipe the whole way, and that's what makes it loud. These are the people that drive around and don't care. That's not what we're about," he said. "There's always a few people that ruin it for everyone else."

While Tapper believes that there are "at least a dozen bad apples at the same time" when he experiences modified vehicles, he said Pipe Down is willing to meet with members of Pipe Up to try to find a resolution.

"It is a challenge, but I think we do have something in common," Tapper said. "Let's get beyond that and sit together and talk about it, and maybe we can get somewhere to have everyone agree on this challenge."

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