Loud Pipes Hurt Ears

Have you ever heard this before?

Loud pipes save lives

I’ve read it a few times on a shortsighted (my opinion) patch you can sew to your motorcycle vest to prove to others how “hard” you are. I don’t completely disagree with the patch, but I also don’t completely agree with the patch.

Yes, motorcyclists get killed or seriously injured when cars hit them. Sometimes, it is because a car merges into a lane that a motorcyclist is occupying, or turns out in front of a motorcyclist, or otherwise tries to occupy the same volume with their car that the motorcyclist is already occupying.

In some of these cases, yes, a louder set of pipes on a bike might cause a motorist to take notice and avoid a collision with a motorcyclist. However, it’s far from a given. Loud pipes aren’t going to save a motorcyclist every time…in fact we don’t have anything more than anecdotal evidence to suggest that it’s even a remotely effective measure.

Let’s consider the costs and the benefits. If we’re working within the context of the assertion that “loud pipes save lives”, I’ll expect that I can compare the benefit of “saving lives” to the cost of having loud pipes. Let’s assume it’s $1000 for a loud exhaust for a motorcycle. Most people would probably agree that $1000 is a small price to pay to prevent a death. However, I don’t think this is a complete or accurate analysis. For instance, we’re completely neglecting the likelihood of each outcome, and the so-called “expected value.” I don’t think anyone has good evidence that loud pipes have a high likelihood of saving lives.

I also don’t think that $1000 is the only cost to having loud pipes. There are a lot of people that are bothered by loud motorcycle exhaust systems. Really bothered. This is a cost. It’s not a cost to the individual with the motorcycle if they enjoy having a loud exhaust. It’s what’s known in economics as an external cost. It’s a cost that is incurred by others. So, if you take an action and you reap the benefit, but you make others pay for it, does that sound like the right thing to do? Some people would call it “inconsiderate”, others might call it “mooching”, and even others might just call it “being a dick”. In case you’re wondering, I’m in that last camp.

If you’re going to put loud exhaust pipes on your motorcycle, for whatever reason (performance, looks, sound), do it for that reason. Don’t try to justify your loud exhaust system by saying that it’s to prevent an accident. Just own it: say you wanted loud pipes. You like the way they make your penis feel. Congratulations. Don’t say it’s for safety.

I ride a motorcycle, and the thought of hitting you with my car might still cross my mind.