PINELLAS – Shawn Morrison, owner of Car Tunes in Largo, recalls customers proudly waving tickets they received for noise violations when coming into his East Bay Boulevard car stereo shop.
"Back in the 90s, when they were giving out $35 tickets, it used to be prestigious to walk in and say ‘I got three tickets in the past three weeks,’" Morrison said. "It was a status symbol."
Now though, drivers in Pinellas County might be less inclined to celebrate their tickets as fines have increased, as has awareness of a program aimed at helping citizens report noisy drivers.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office brought renewed attention to "Operation Lower the Boom" this week when the program was mentioned in a bi-weekly newsletter.
The six-year-old initiative allows citizens to use an online form to report drivers they believe are violating the county’s noise ordinance. It began in 2012 when the Sheriff’s Office partnered with Noise Free Florida to reduce the number of drivers who blast music, which can drown out other car stereos and emergency sirens.
"We hadn’t talked about much lately and wanted to throw it out as a reminder," Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Gross said. "For the most part, the goal of the initiative is to bring awareness to the problem and get compliance from potential offenders."
Gross said citizens who witness someone they believe to be in violation of the county’s noise ordinance can visit the Operation Lower the Boom page on the PCSO website. There, they’ll fill out a form including details like make and model of the car, tag number, location and description of the incident.
The Sheriff’s Office will then contact the vehicle’s registered owner by mail with details of the ordinance, letting them know they might be in violation. A second report for the same vehicle will prompt an in-person visit from a deputy, Gross said. Complaints can be submitted anonymously, but any information included in the complaint will be public record.
Deputies, however, can’t issue a citation unless they witness someone violating the ordinance. Gross said the program is more about deterrence than enforcement.
"The goal is to notify people," he said. "There are probably circumstances where people don’t know their noise affects others."
The county’s noise ordinance allows deputies to issue citations when they witness cars playing music at "unreasonable volume," Gross said. That can include a number of factors, such as where the violation occurs (residential or business area) and the time of day. Generally, though, if another driver’s music drowns out your own, or you can hear their radio in your car or home with your windows closed, they might be in violation of the noise ordinance.
"I always tell our customers just be smart with this," Morrison said. "When you drive into your neighborhood, don’t have that thing jamming. If you’re at a red light, be smart and turn that thing down. You don’t know if the guy next to you is a cop or an elderly person who is gonna be freaked out."