Do Loud Pipes Save Lives?

12_Harley_PipeShootout-VH2The ongoing battle between motorcyclists and the activists against “noise pollution” has put motorcycle exhausts under the microscope. Every day, motorcycle riders fight to gain attention from distracted drivers. With methods like high visibility gear, upgraded horns and loud pipes, riders have been quite successful in avoiding major accidents. Today, the saying “loud pipes save lives” is being dissected by the public, law enforcement and even motorcycle riders themselves.

The truth is, statistically speaking, nobody knows if loud pipes save lives. There isn’t any hard data to support either side of the argument. Physics argues that the direction of travel and the flow of exhaust noise makes this theory questionable. Some drivers on the highway may not hear your screaming engine over all the road noise as you approach from behind, no matter how loud your bike is. Especially if you come up so fast that your presence doesn’t even register in their wandering mind.

On the other hand, experienced motorcyclists have stories about how the rev of their engine helped save them from a distracted driver. On city roads, loud pipes may make the difference between a driver on the phone looking before they attempt to change lanes. I don’t know about you, but I would take a veteran riders experience into serious consideration over a debate like this.

So what can we really make of all this?

Loud pipes make safe riders safer.

Loud pipes can, at times, catch the attention of distracted drivers. Relying on that as your only safety buffer is probably not the brightest idea. Instead, incorporating an upgraded horn, lights and gear with an aftermarket exhaust gives you a well-rounded interest of safety. Also, learning to ride defensively doesn’t hurt. While loud pipes may not be the single most important safety factor, there is no shame in wanting them. Any biker would rather have the authoritative growl of an aftermarket exhaust system over putt-putting down the road with stock mufflers. In reality, a stock Harley is only a bit louder than a vacuum.

With that being said, there is a certain point where loud pipes may become disruptive of the peace. If you ride respectfully through neighborhoods, the “noise pollution” activists can’t get mad at you for rattling their house. Stay safe out there on the road.

2016-06-07T10:11:56+00:00 By |Uncategorized|47 Comments

About the Author:

J&P Cycles Social Engagement and Content Specialist. Motocross racer and motorcycle enthusiast.

47 Comments

  1. Lee September 8, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    What we need is a DOT with good old-fashion common sense. They love expensive computer safety devices but can’t figure out what you’re saying. They have no requirement for running lights on cars or m/c’s. If every bike sold had a couple of yellow LEDs on the front and back then problems which you described would be practically eliminated.

    • Ron Sindric October 3, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Driver / rider training needs to be more intense when it comes to collision avoidance driving. How ’bout revoking the driving priviledges of a driver / rider who causes an accident through negligence or distracted drivinv for say six months ?

      Daytime “running lights” are a good idea. Some bikes have running lights up front but nothing in the rear. Retro-fitting high lumen lights ( yellow front, red rear ) that pulse might be a good idea. I wonder how LiDAR anti-collision devices would work. Might be a pain in thick traffic though.

    • Joe October 3, 2016 at 10:22 am

      I have bright running lights front and rear as well as auxiliary white lights yet I still spend quite a bit of time dodging idiots (and some who apparently use bikes for target practice).
      Lights, like loud pipes do not necessarily make an answer to the problem. More education for auto drivers would help but a little courtesy on the road would go a long way, also.

  2. Maurizio Pescatori September 7, 2016 at 7:19 am

    One issue nobody is addressing is
    “WRONG DRIVER TRAINING”

    Driving schools teach you “look left, then right” and teach you to look for “A BOX”, i.e. a car or other 4-wheeled vehicle.
    Motorcycles are 2-wheeled vehichles, they are NARROW and will NOT be seen unless you are trained to specifically look out of them.
    (Mind you, it’s the same with children riding bicycles…)
    I am a motorcycle rider of 40 years (and 56 y.o.) and have often surprised myself by stomping on the brakes after taking a second or even third look… because bikes will be cloaked by other vehicles, hidden behind billboards or even hedges! Quite simply, they are easier to dismiss because they are such a small target.

    Mind you, it’s the same with children riding bicycles…

  3. Dan July 24, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    If loud pipes save lives, I’d hope that people with loud pipes would at least stop revving them at stop lights (when there’s no use to make lots of noise for “safety”) and gunning it through quiet residential neighborhoods at all hours simply to show off. Also, if you are putting a loud exhaust on your bike for safety reasons, you better also have a REFLECTIVE VEST and some bright colors on. That is the much more effective way to be seen on a bike and if you’re so into safety, you’d certainly be wearing ATGATT.

    • J&P Cycles July 27, 2016 at 9:22 am

      Dan,
      I agree with you, being respectful to others is always a priority especially when there is a possibility of disturbing others in their home. Bright and reflective vests are a great way to stay safe on the road, I think there is no harm in taking every precaution you can!

      Kaitlyn

      • Grady October 7, 2016 at 12:50 am

        I will tell you from 42 yrs of riding that at this time of my life, there are more items on my bike than ever for safety. Led lighting has been a godsend. Head-lighting and signal-lighting. I ride a ’75 FLH where the only items of the bike from ’75 are the frame and lower engine case. I’ve upgraded all lighting plus added led strips to fender supports, swing-arm, lower frame and engine. Yes it looks cool, but my major consideration was to be seen at night. And yet, as well “lit-up” as I am, there has been countless times that the 4-wheeler doesn’t see me. Not because of me not being able to be seen, but because of them not paying any attention to the world around them. It could be because of texting, looking elsewhere, asleep, etc.. I run long straight pipes that I can keep toned-down. But one “RAP!” on the throttle, and I can see the driver wake up, even if I’m one or two cars back. (Yes, they CAN hear you). If I’m in this situation, I’m approaching slowly anyway. So yes, be very defensive. But when it calls for it, USE THE PIPES! Let them bitch as much as they want. But my life is worth a lot more to me and my family than some day-dreamers’ inconvenience or a sound nuisance to them. I wouldn’t care, legal or not. It takes just one idiot to end my life, and I’ll do everything in my power to not let that happen. So whine all you want. Until all cars have a idiot-proof radar system that will “wake-up” the driver in ALL situations. Loud pipes will never go away. There’s too much at risk.

        • Dan K October 13, 2016 at 11:22 am

          It’s just unfortunate that the occasional safety aspect you’re thinking of (which I can understand) results in considerable noise pollution, probably the loudest noises in most suburbs etc., even when you are the only vehicle on the road.

          If you leave a friend’s house at 2 AM and are riding through neighborhoods on the way home, you’re possibly disturbing 1000s of people so you can “feel safe” even if there’s nobody driving a car that would need to hear you. That may save your life once in 500 years but you’ll have annoyed millions throughout your life. It just seems awfully selfish.

        • Lee October 14, 2016 at 11:24 am

          Seems like an air horn would accomplish the same thing without annoying everyone else. Your straight pipes may be toned down when you’re not getting on the throttle but they’re still pretty loud. Saving your butt is important but realizing you’re not the only person in the world is also important.

  4. […] pipes save lives. We published a post  about this controversy not too long ago. True or not, one thing about loud pipes is certain – […]

  5. Mike July 11, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Anyone that has ridden both styles of bike (louder vs quiet) can attest to noting the loud pipes have occasionally garnered the attention of a car/truck driver that was unaware of them until being heard. It simply happens all the time. But there is such a thing as too loud (straight pipe bikers please note).

  6. Alan July 3, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Im a street bike rider of 40 yrs and going strong still and a Commercial Driver as a profession. I say drive defensively in your auto and on your bikes and pay attention, period. Loud pipes don’t save lives, caution does though. Loud pipes caused my wifes accident when a 100 lb dog attacked her at 60 mph, but that’s the country life, lesson learned. As for you riders and drivers with HIGH intensity lights and fog lights (for safety my butt) in the daytime, your just being a nuisance. We as riders are taking a risk, know it and expect it, act accordingly! Wear good gear and behave like adults, its a priviledge.

    • J&P Cycles July 8, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Alan,

      I completely agree with you, riding smart is truly the best way to ride safe! Good gear, visibility, and good awareness are all essential to riding safe. I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s crash, I hope she made a good recovery! Be safe out there on the road.

      Kaitlyn
      J&P Cycles

    • Michael July 9, 2016 at 7:56 am

      Loud pipes most certainly can save lives. They can have people looking for you from the sound before they would normally see you. Especially with the distraction of the cell phone craze. If loud pipes help get one biker seen they are worth it. Sometimes it takes that sound to wake some people up.

      • Ron Sindric October 14, 2016 at 8:39 pm

        I’ve been riding since 1974. It would be interesting to compare distracted driving crashes on the highway vs in-town. My current in-town-every-day-ride is an American Made ALL ELECTRIC ( 2014 ZERO zf11.4 Model S ) so loud “pipes” are a moot point. My bike does have an air-horn and bright lights. I wear a “skid-lid”, leathers, gloves and heavy jeans even in the Summer. Maybe I should install a playing card and clothes-pin to “flap” in the spokes or play Wagner’s de Valkiere with the volume turned up !

  7. John H Siemon Jr July 3, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Loud pipes also help with deer and otherwild life. I had a bike nnicknamed the deer hunter. I had a deer t-bone me and the falling weak I t-bone a deer. There were many other close calls. When I took the mufflers off, the only time I seen any deer they were running the opposite direction.

  8. Pete c July 2, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    I been riding for 35 years, officer in ABATE fighting for rights and safety. Yes loud pipes make you heard, but riding loud can be done with mufflers that are stock!

    You need to ride like no one can see you, you need to position yourself to be seen and expect not to be seen.

    Dodging a loud bike that is not seen? How about missing a seen bike that was not heard.

    LOOK TWICE SAVE A LIFE it could be your own.

  9. Jack Delanoy July 2, 2016 at 6:54 am

    I’m convinced louder pipes do save lives when a bike rider on the highway passed me in my truck on the inside lane and I may have hit him if I didn’t hear the pipes because I didn’t see him. I know when I ride my bike with loud pipes people notice you more than any other visible item, lights, bright shirt etc.

  10. Reino Linne July 1, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    As an expeienced rider of 60plus years on all makes of bikes, I find too loud pipes annoying and hard on ears even with always on helmet. The best defensive tool available is a pulsating headlight(s) and stop lights too if so inclined. You will get more attention from approaching and in front drivers, than loud pipes.. At least my experience in most all of our states, try them and see, and if loud pipes is your thing, use them too!! Above all else drives defensively at all times, the caged drivers do not see you most times, they are distracted..

  11. Throwback July 1, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    Loud pipes do save lives. I live in Alaska and ride hard here my pipes have prevented me. From collisions with many moose and a couple black bear and hundreds of vehicles loud noises draw attention. Whether it be lawn force meant. Or activists and high school drivers and tourists.

  12. wes July 1, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    loud pipes DO save lives. I have been riding for over fifty years. I can tell you with certainty that they are one tool that we have available to use among several, that help keep riders safe. the lights, the bright coloursd, the horn, the training, all part of our defensive riding. we have loud pipes, to actually help as part of this. they [loud pipes] are one more tool to keep us safe. also along with helmets. what it comes down to is, choice, ya can run loud pipes or not, but it should be MY choice. just as it should be MY choice to wear a helmet or not. thankfully in my state[ Arkansas] we have the freedom to wear or not to wear a helmet. y’all be carefull out there, there are a lot of distracted, phone talking idiots out there and they’re driving!!

  13. Ralph Campbell July 1, 2016 at 8:37 am

    Been known to set off a few car alarms

  14. Diana June 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    I have had 4 different motorcycles, and my 2010 I put loud Vance and Hines pipes and had less close calls than with my wimpy sounding Honda and Suzuki. I can say, popping my pipes makes people look, not my orange vest I wear.

  15. Jerome Berrebi June 6, 2016 at 4:21 am

    Loud pipes are new trend for the motorcyclists. The wide use of visibility gear, upgraded horns and it’s now very much common. In some cases the heavy sound bitter for listening but it’s very much effective to catch attention of other motorcyclists. So in this point of view loud pipes are successful in avoiding major accidents. Thank you.

  16. Edward Obeda May 25, 2016 at 9:24 am

    People driving and texting and doing other things like driving under the influence more likely will not hear loud pipes. Other drivers often get irritated at the loud sounds and look at bikers as noisy trouble makers. I find it a more pleasant ride with the factory pipes on my bike.

  17. Kevin May 24, 2016 at 8:54 am

    It’s better to be seen then heard!
    As a rider I always look for bikes when driving my car and can tell you I do not hear the loud pipes until a bike passes the other direction or I’m right behind them. By then it would be to late for a driver to react. Saftey gear, lights and public awareness is what saves lives not pipes.

  18. stephen mosher May 24, 2016 at 7:52 am

    A-MEN TOO LOAD PIPES

  19. Steve May 24, 2016 at 5:44 am

    I have been riding road bikes on and of for the last 36 years, the last 8 on a Harley.
    Going from sports bikes to a Harley with loud pipes, I have certainly noticed car driver are a lot more aware of my presents.
    While riding my Fireblade, had many cars change lanes or pull out in front of me, not so since riding a bike with noise.

  20. Bill May 23, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    NO, loud pipes do NOT save lives. They are loud, annoying, and downright stupid, and unnecessary.
    I have been riding for over 40 years, have never had loud pipes on my bike, and I have never been in a wreck.
    The only bikers I have ran across that had loud pipes was to try, and the keyword here is try, to be cool.
    I drive truck, and every time I see a bike coming up behind me, I never hear them until AFTER they have passed me. And if they are oncoming, I never hear them until they are right on top of me.
    So really, the only thing loud pipes are good for is to annoy, and piss people off.
    There has never been any factual proof that loud pipes save lives. NONE.

    • Johnny May 24, 2016 at 9:31 am

      While driving home late one night in my highway cage after a long day at work, I was tired and just wanting to get home. Approaching a slower vehicle in the right lane the same one I was in I was about to change lanes when all of a sudden I heard the GLORIOUS sound of NON-STOCK exhaust on a couple of motorcycles approaching me in the left hand lane. I didn’t see them (for whatever reason, see above) before I heard them. I was relieved that those bikes were LOUD because I was coming over and the potential for loss of life or limb was thwarted because of those loud pipes. LOUD PIPES DO SAVE LIVES.

    • Dan Pendleton May 24, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Bill I would have to disagree completely. I don’t run an obnoxious pipe, but I can be heard. Riding in Northern Maine I have seen Moose looking down the road waiting for me to approach because they heard me coming. I ride about 16,000 miles a year which gives me lot’s of encounters with cars and four legged creatures. I’ll take every advantage I can get.

    • Dave Guethlein May 26, 2016 at 10:31 am

      I disagree with you 100 %. I’ve been riding for 50 years and the loud pipes have saved my butt more than once. There are to many distracted drivers out there now and if it annoys you and them then GREAT, it’s already caught your attention!

  21. MerlinZ May 23, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Defensive riding skills and staying alert, along with proper safety gear is key to survival when riding a motorcycle. Whether loud pipes save lives or not I cannot say with any degree of certainty. But I do believe the potential is there at least, and that alone is worth something. Anything that gives motorcyclists an added margin of safety, no matter how small, is worth having in my book.

  22. Lee May 23, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    I have a pet theory. It will probably never be proved or disproved but here it is: Loud pipes are for riders who are passive aggressive. They say it saves lives but what it does is, it stops the conversation for people sitting on their porches, it makes people miss part of their TV show, it rattles windows, it makes peoples’ ears hurt, it makes people pissed off, it makes people not like motorcyclists. How this helps I do not understand. I think riders with loud pipes are pissed off at the world and this is their way of getting back. Or they just don’t care about anyone but themselves.

  23. Ezelial Sledgenoodle May 23, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    LOUD HORN, YES.

    SKID-LID, YES.

    LEATHERS WITH RIDING BODY ARMOR, YES.

    BRIGHT LIGHTS, YES.

    DEFENSIVE DRIVING, YES.

    PULSED HEAD LIGHT, YES.

    LOUD PIPES NO !

    To me, loud pipes are a sign that the person with them is showing off- “LOOK AT ME AREN’T I THE MACHO REBEL”.
    Tuned exhaust which is part of a Bike’s four engine strokex- YES.

    Of course if a person has a POWERFUL & LOUD stereo on their Bike, YES.

    Just the personal musings of someone who has owned a dozen Bikes since his first Ride in 1974.

    • Bad Bob May 24, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      My ’56 Harley doesn’t have the best electrical system. I use one of the headlights with a 10w running light in it to keep from draining the battery when in town. On the road the generator will power the 55w halogen light.

      I can tell a BIG difference in the reaction of cars when running the 10w light. There is no doubt bright lights make us MUCH more safe!

    • Bob July 1, 2016 at 7:26 am

      Defensive driving and riding gear yes but bright lights, loud pipes, and especially those idiotic, distracting, EXTREMELY ANNOYING pulsed headlights are all bad ideas.
      Running with the high beam(s) on is also bad driving since even in daytime, that high beam goes directly at other driver’s eyes whether bike or cage. The only vehicle that can escape the high beam is an 18 wheeler since that truck is high enough to avoid a large bit of the high beam. Please reconsider using high beams and pulsed headlights! Those will eventually cause you a drop and possibly really, really piss off some other person who happens to have you behind him.

      • wes July 1, 2016 at 12:17 pm

        bob, you sir are an idiot!

        • Bob July 2, 2016 at 9:00 pm

          Wes Said On 07-01-2016, “bob, you sir are an idiot!”.

          Wes,
          Is that all you have, just name calling? While you may not agree with my opinion and you certainly have that right and privilege, you at least could offer some support for your side of the question.
          Please notice that I did, in my post, at least state that pulsed headlights are extremely annoying and that high beams, even during daylight hours, can cause visual problems for oncoming motorists — even motorcycle riders!
          There is some minimal support for my position on pulsed headlights and high beams.
          Would you care to try again?

  24. JCalz May 23, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    As a motorcyclist myself, I’d like to say that I agree with Kaitlyn’s point that; “Loud pipes can, at times, catch the attention of distracted drivers. Relying on that as your only safety buffer is probably not the brightest idea” However, I believe that “Loud Pipes Save Lives” is more of an accurate slogan than most of the non-riding public or, those who prefer that the sound of their tires on the road are louder than their exhaust, would want everyone to believe.
    I commute up and down I-95 through the Northern Va. corridor every day. Some days I ride on 2’s and some days I drive my car. I normally drive 5 – 10 mph over the posted speed limit and, at that speed, I am driving a “normal” speed. Most other vehicles speed past on the left and right — tailgating dangerously close until they get a chance to speed past, weaving in and out of traffic. Others drive slower and I pass them by.
    While riding my Softail ( with a loud D&D exhaust ), i notice that ALL other vehicles on the road know that I’m there — whether I’m riding behind them, in front of them or beside them. What is interesting is, no other vehicles WANT to stay anywhere near me on the road so they either speed on to get as far ahead of me as possible, slow WAY down to allow me to get as far ahead of them as possible and choose to either speed up or slow down if they are stuck beside me for more than a few minutes.
    Alternatively, while driving my car, I have been cruising along after a long day at work, listening to the radio ( sometimes loudly ) and have heard the approach of a motorcycle with louder pipes. Obviously, the pipes are louder once they are in front of me but, they are definitely noticeable — even while “daydreaming” or playing the music loudly and with the AC or heat on. I have also been startled by whisper-quiet motorcycles that whiz “out of nowhere” or, that I notice just before making a lane change ONLY because I “head checked” my blind spot and found them riding there.
    I’m not saying that extremely loud “ground pounder” pipes are any safer than V&H Longshots or Rinehart duals. Personally speaking, I believe there is such a thing as “too loud” for a street bike but, referring to the majority of motorcyclists that believe — as I do — that Loud Pipes INDISPUTABLY Save Lives, the enforcement of any “noise ordinance” should be based on a level of “Disturbance” and NOT “Nuisance”. Purposefully riding through a quiet neighborhood at 3:00 a.m. at wide open throttle with drag pipes would definitely rate as a “disturbance” as would repeatedly revving the engine when stuck in traffic just to be annoying. But, riding along a public highway, at a normal speed, in a respectful manner with the same drag pipes that “annoys” other motorists and keeps them from running the motorcyclist off the road or cutting them off because they were “too busy” texting or reading or sleeping is a life saving feature that, as far as I’m concerned, could never be refuted.
    LOUD PIPES SAVE LIVES ! PUT DOWN THE PHONE AND DRIVE !

    • Dave Guethlein May 26, 2016 at 10:45 am

      I agree! You are using common sense which we all should be using. I have many, many years under my butt on 2 wheels and I can honestly say LOUD PIPES do SAVE LIVES!

  25. Doug H. May 23, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    IMHO, No, loud pipes don’t save lives .
    Riding defensively, a loud horn (as mentioned), a headlamp modulator, brighter turn signals, brake lights and tail lights all help.
    But the best life saver is the man/woman behind the handlebars .
    I know that loud pipes don’t help much because I can’t hear my own motorcycle when driving in my pickup with the music up, air conditioner/heater full bore and windows up . (an experiment I tried by having a buddy ride my bike right next to my truck when I was driving it) So if that is the case in my truck, it must also be the case for someone else.

  26. Gman May 23, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    All of my Harleys had/have aftermarket exhaust. Otherwise, they sound like a Honda. But, I’ve never heard a motorist say after an accident, ‘I didn’t HEAR him’, it’s always ‘I didn’t SEE him’. I don’t buy the whole loud pipes save lives thing. What will help to save lives is, ride defensively, stay out of blind spots, make sure you are SEEN first, heard second.

    • Lee July 2, 2016 at 9:35 am

      I can honestly say I don’t know what you’re talking about. Harleys always sound like Harleys whatever the pipes. I have factory pipes on my Sportster, they look great, they’re a little on the loud side, they don’t annoy people, they don’t make people hate motorcyclists, and if my bike sounds like a Honda to you I firmly suggest you see a doctor.

  27. Bruce Driscoll May 23, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Loud pipes are only a small part of being safe… after 45 years I have found two pieces of safety equipment that is needed… 1. My helmet, and 2. The brain that I put in it…

    • Don May 23, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      I agree completely with the helmet. A 35 mph accident here over the week end caused the death of man with 5 kids, head injury. As far as loud pipes, when I am in my cage I can hear a Harley if he sneaks up beside me, not so much with a quiet bike. Ride Safe

      • Lee May 31, 2016 at 8:59 pm

        When you say sneak up beside you it sounds like he got in your blind spot. This is why the loud vs. quiet pipe argument is going to go on forever and get nowhere. If he got in your blind spot and needed loud pipes he’s definitely doing something wrong. It’s like someone saying, I’m a terrible driver, I have no defensive driving skills, so I got a super deluxe air horn and it’s a good thing because I’m constantly having to blast it to save my butt. I use it so much I go through about 3 per year.

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