Road traffic noise

Other Names:
Motor vehicle noise

Transport noise, and in particular that generated by road traffic, is the main cause of human exposure to ambient noise. Except for locations near to airports where aircraft noise is excessive or near large industrial centers, motor vehicle noise is the controlling factor in setting the background noise levels of the environment. In those situations where extensive community noise surveys have been made, vehicular traffic noise controlled the noise environment in more than 85% of the locations.

Automobiles, through their total numbers, are the largest total source of urban noise. Diesel trucks are clearly the noisiest vehicles on streets and highways; they are considerably larger in size and more complex as noise sources than passenger cars. Motorcycles are quickly becoming an important part of the total vehicular noise picture. In recent years, the registration of new motorcycles has been growing at an ever increasing rate. Not only are they used increasingly as a means of transportation among certain age groups, but the mini-cycle used off the street on trails and in parks is becoming an important source of high intensity noise.


Road traffic noise is everywhere growing in intensity, spreading to areas until now unaffected and creating as much concern as any other type of pollution. Surveys carried out in the UK, France, Norway, Japan and Sweden show not only that traffic is considered to generate the most annoying kind of noise, but that it is often one of the most serious problems that town-dwellers must face. The proportion of the population in the European Region exposed to high noise levels (equivalent to 65 dB over 24 hours) increased from 15% to 26% between 1980 and 1990. About 65% of the European population is estimated to be exposed to noise levels leading to serious annoyance, speech interference and sleep disturbance (55-65 dB over 24 hours). The world motor vehicle population (private cars and commercial vehicles) rose from 100 million units in 1960 to 200 million in 1970 and is thought to have exceeded 300 million units by 1980. In France, for example, it has been estimated that noise may have increased by an average 2-3 dB between 1970 and 1985. It can be concluded that as a result of the increase in road traffic, noise levels will increase unless preventive or corrective measures are taken. By the year 2000 the number of people exposed to noise exceeding 65 dB is expected to increase from 15% to 20%.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
17.06.2019 – 18:15 CEST