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Sarasota Exploring Law To Cite Loud Music Blaring From Cars

Sarasota can create and enforce its own ordinance on loud music from cars now that a state law was overturned.

If you live in Sarasota, you have mostly likely heard the rock and rap concerts emanating from cars passing by or a stop light, and even from a parking lot at 3 a.m.

These aren't cars that just have their radio turned up a little loud for a cruise, as special amplifiers make every beat and word clear as day, as loud as possible.

Sarasota officials are working to fix a law so officers are able to cite these drivers once again—but at "unreasonable times." A public hearing could be set before the City Commission in February, City Attorney Robert Fournier said at Monday's City Commission meeting.

Sarasota can find some legal room to operate thanks to a Florida Supreme Court decision.

The city had its own noise ordinance regulating the amplified sound from cars, but the state statue preempted any local ordinance.

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the State of Florida vs. Catalano Case on Dec. 13 where Florida Statue 316.3045 was challenged in Pinellas County. The law made it illegal for amplified sound coming from a motorized car while on public streets, so that the "sound is plainly audible" from a distance of 25 feet from the car.

"But now that statute is held unconstitutional, it's not there anymore … it's not covered by Chapter 316, so I don't think it's a conflict," Fournier said.

The state law exempted sound coming from vehicles used for business or political uses, and so the court struck down the law because it gave preference on the content of the sound, creating First Amendment issues since music is a form of speech.

"The good thing is the Supreme Court upheld this plainly audible standard," City Attorney Robert Fournier. What that means is that it cannot be argued in court that an officer's level of hearing is subjective enough to create an issue of enforcement.

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Additionally, the state law upheld that the law was meant to protect the public from excessively loud noise for traffic safety, Fournier said.

"The state of Florida never argued that the purpose of the statute was to protect the public from excessive noise," Fournier said. "They said it was to promote traffic safety—that there was a distraction to drivers from the noise."

But the city is now enabled to say instead, the Sarasota ordinance's goal is to protect people from excessive noise or sound.

The city's ordinance talks about unreasonable sound, but areas of it needs fixed, Fournier said. Those areas will be removed, put the area covering speech/music in its own separate section and fix the vague areas, he added.

"Our own ordinance right now has a few provisions that might be challenged as vague because conceivably, they could invite subjective enforcement," Fournier said.

Those includes provisions that cover noise that "annoys" or "disturb," he added.

"Our ordinance attempts to get around this problem by saying it's prohibited only if it's found offensive to a reasonable person by normal sensibilities, which is a good effort that might work, but might not work," Fournier continued. "But we can do better now if we follow the Supreme Court's opinion because they held that the plainly audible standard is fine."  

Some of the complaints in the city include the cars "congregating and playing amplified sound at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning," Fournier said.

Commissioner Shannon Snyder questioned if the severity of the penalty would change, saying he'd like the penalty to be an infraction and not subjected to potential jail time. The city's ordinance was considered a non-moving infraction without any points earned on your driver's license. 

"If you end up having this thing as a misdemeanor and you end up with arrests, you're talking about state attorney time, public defender time, and us getting in regulation," he said. "If you're talking about a straight misdemeanor that's a fine, we're going to be a lot more effective and it's going to be a lot more cost effective."

If it would operate like a parking ticket, then the city could boot the car, add additional fines, and more, Snyder said.

The city did tweak its parking enforcement to be able to report people with unpaid fines to the state Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety so the offenders would be unable to renew tags or transfer the title. Snyder said he would like to see that used.

At one time, cars could even be seized under the old city ordinance, but the practice stopped because of issues with the state law that had to be resolved, Fournier said.

Vice-Mayor Willie Shaw said he can "live with" the infraction.

"The only thing with a ticket is that people walk around with 40 tickets a year," Shaw said. 

Joel Parisi January 08, 2013 at 09:53 PM
I'm not a fan of those annoying car stereos, but the fact remains that this is a law that will impact a very specific group of citizens. It is almost to a point that it could be considered discrimination. Lets face it though they have picked a group to fund the city that will not fight back. Wouldn't it make more sense for them to make a noise ordinance for all moving vehicles to have a certain decible level that they must maintain? It would be like if they allowed live music downtown, but no jazz or you are getting fined. How is are lows and highs of loud music any different from the exhaust, throttle, or the roar of the engine? Its not but the bottom line is simple. It is easier to ticket the youth than try to tell bikers and muscle car aficionados that they are too loud. You want to enforce a law great, just cover all your bases.
Judy Robinson January 08, 2013 at 10:00 PM
So who decides what is too loud? Any music you don't like seems too loud, but that does not mean it is
RAJ (Bo) McMerritt January 09, 2013 at 11:15 AM
How about loud cars?
Richard M. Swier January 09, 2013 at 12:21 PM
This is not about loud music this is about expanding government control. It is about the power to tell you what or what not to do. Take away the music, take away the guns, take away our freedom, leads to tyranny.
Nicky Roberts January 09, 2013 at 01:43 PM
This just seems ridiculous to me! I agree that noisy rap is obnoxious but then maybe my noisy classical music is obnoxious too and driving down the road listening to a my music at full volume is such a sweet pleasure. I would be very upset if I was told I couldn't do that or worse, get fined for it. No really, this is quite silly.
Charles Schelle (Editor) January 09, 2013 at 02:32 PM
From what I can tell, this is not exactly about targeting someone who has their bass thumping a bit much, but has anyone ever had one of those cars pull up or come around a corner that the music is so loud that you think you're being under attack? I know I've been at a couple intersections where not only can I not hear my music, but I seriously wonder how that person doesn't go deaf in a day. These cars have either high quality amplifiers or it almost sounds like there is a public address system hooked up to the sound system. I'll try to get video of one to post in a follow-up report to give people a more clear, um, sound of what's going on. The issue of unreasonable time came up in the discussions, so it's possible that all of this during the day we'll just have to live with, but I would think that most could agree that 3 a.m. probably isn't a good time to be doing this.
virginia hoffman January 09, 2013 at 03:10 PM
My ear drums would appreciate this restriction, as it is quite disconcerting to have a vehicle pull up next to you with this very loud bass which vibrates right into your car. I think this is very dangerous and not fair for drivers who wish to concentrate on their driving.
Joel Parisi January 09, 2013 at 11:25 PM
There are ALOT of laws that need to be passed to make the streets safer long before simply a loud stereo. Its not like you are a bat and drive with sonar and when you hear rap music you instantly wrap your car around a pole. Driving on a cell phone clearly needs to be put into the books long before loud music. How many people have died from loud rap music VS someone being on their cell phones? In Illinois it is illegal for any exhaust to be louder than stock. Im not saying this is a great idea but survey says if you want to put a law to make driving quiet then it should go across the boards and apply for all situations. (625 ILCS 5/12‑602) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 12‑602) Sec. 12‑602. Mufflers, prevention of noise. Every motor vehicle driven or operated upon the highways of this State shall at all times be equipped with an adequate muffler or exhaust system in constant operation and properly maintained to prevent any excessive or unusual noise. No such muffler or exhaust system shall be equipped with a cutout, bypass or similar device. No person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise of such vehicle above that emitted by the muffler originally installed on the vehicle, and such original muffler shall comply with all the requirements of this Section. (Source: P. A. 77‑37.)
bojangles January 16, 2013 at 03:29 AM
yes it is true. we all like peace. but no one likes to be told what too do. but if you band something. it should be texting while driving. no so much as noise. we all like to crank up the tunes. i have had to slame on my brakes. more than i can count. texting and driving is as bad as drinking and driving. every two cars you go by are texting. you need to fix this .
Brian Schwaab March 01, 2013 at 01:51 AM
I have never seen any municipality except this one to allow people to ride around town with music blaring from speakers mounted in car grills and under bumpers. It is absolutely ridiculous. I even asked both officers in Bradenton and Sarasota why they did not write citations for the drivers. They told me it was not against the law. It was so ridiculous all I could do is laugh. People saying that it is discrimination is just BS. If a loud music law is in place it applies to everyone! The powers that be need to put a end to this annoying behavior.
Jenny April 01, 2013 at 12:48 PM
How about the obnoxious middle aged men on Harley's? South Park even did a show on it. They are more obnoxious.

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