On a regular day in Dhaka, a motorcyclist was stuck in a tailback of vehicles on his way from New Eskaton to Moghbazar intersection. He began honking the horn impatiently.
Asked why he was doing so, he said, “The car ahead could make some way for me.”
But there was no space to make way and all the other vehicles had come to a standstill like him.
Noise or sound pollution in Dhaka has always been discussed, yet little has been done to prevent it.
The Department of Environment sometimes conducts a campaign about the harm caused by loud vehicle horns. Government pamphlets and adverts in newspapers do mention how sound pollution can be fatal.
The DoE has fixed the limits of sound in different types of environments, but apparently there is no effort to make the car and horn importers aware of these.
Bangladesh banned the import and use of hydraulic horns in 2017 but it has done nothing about the other loud horns.
The road transport law stipulates a Tk 10,000 fine for “loud horns” but little is done to enforce it.
THE LIMITS AND DANGERS
Bangladesh passed the Noise Pollution (Control) Rules in 2006 which specified the maximum limit for noise in silent areas as 40 decibels at night and 50 decibels in the day, 45 decibels at night and 55 decibels at daytime in residential areas.
In mixed areas, the maximum limit is set at 50 decibels and 60 decibels for night and day, 60 decibels and 70 decibels in commercial zones, and 70 decibels and 75 decibels in industrial zones.
On Feb 1, a special drive by the DoE assessed five cars and found one honking at 110 decibels on Manik Mia Avenue. The noise levels of the other four vehicle horns were between 97 and 101 decibels.
Dr Saika Nizam, a researcher of non-communicable diseases at Bangladesh University of Health Sciences, carried out a study in 2020 where the average noise level in the areas under Dhaka North City Corporation from 7am to 10pm was 95 decibels. It was 96 decibels in Dhaka South.
Among the participants of Saika’s study, the auditory perception of 7 percent was so damaged that they needed hearing aids and 14 percent would need the machines soon.
“Vehicle horns are not only affecting hearing. It may lead to hypertension and insomnia while causing mental issues and short tempers,” said the researcher.
Dr Romen Raihan, associate professor at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said: “Rickshaw pullers and traffic police suffer the most in Dhaka because they are always on the streets. But it’s like everyone’s okay with it.”
Mehedi Haque, general secretary of Bangladesh Cartoonist Association, has been working with Dr Romen, journalist Simu Naser and cartoonist Abu Hasan to raise awareness about the dangers of loud vehicle horns for the last five years. He printed some cartoon stickers and distributed them.
“The administration does not prioritise the horn issue, so it never goes away. Motorcycle riders using helmets now is proof that prioritising can change things. Many motorcyclists did not wear helmets even some years ago. Now both the rider and the passenger have one on them.”
Raihan said: “Air pollution is being widely discussed now but sound pollution is never highlighted. So it never receives the priority of the environment department.”
He underlined the importance of "making a law, implementing it and building awareness" to prevent sound pollution.
Mehedi pointed out that the importers of cars and horns also need to be informed about the limits set by the rules.
Benazir Ahmed, owner of importer U-Cars, said the vehicles they bring in are manufactured following all the laws. “I’ve seen in other countries that they rarely use horns. Even if they do, it can’t be heard from 10 feet away. But the sound of horns passes over more than half a kilometre here in Bangladesh.”
WHAT THE DOE SAYS
Masuma Khanom, director of the noise pollution control project at the DoE, said: “We do as much as we can as per the law.”
Another official, who requested not to be named, said they did not have the manpower to prevent sound pollution.
The official also said the department might not be consulted about sound before the car and horn import rules were set. “But we’ll recommend it in the amendment to the law which is expected to be passed in 2024.”
Cars and motorcycles are also assembled in Bangladesh now. Asked if these companies would be informed about the limits, the official said: “Definitely. And it’s not only about horns, there are other sources of noise pollution. We will work on all of them as soon as possible.”
Section 45 of the 2018 Road Transport Act stipulates a three-month jail term or a maximum of Tk 10,000 fine or both for using horns above acceptable noise levels.
Police are in charge of enforcing the law but it rarely is applied.
Abdul Momen, a deputy commissioner at Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s traffic department, said: “It’s true that we are tasked with overseeing any breach of traffic law. But horns simply don’t get the importance other things do. You are right, the supervision of noise pollution is very weak.”
“We may realise that the car horn is loud, but we can’t say how loud,” he said, suggesting that measuring the sound of horns will be difficult in the city.
Momen stressed the need for cooperation. “You can blame me [as a policeman] as I am responsible for the field work. But BRTA, the Department of Environment and other agencies have to work together.”
“And at the same time, car owners in particular and drivers have to be aware.”
[Writing in English by Syed Mahmud Onindo]