Noise considerably impairs quality of life for many people. Main sources are motor vehicles, trains and aircraft, but also industrial and commercial facilities. Exposure to high levels of noise is not just disturbing or annoying, it may also lead to significant health risks in particular with regard to the cardio-vascular system. Although regulations for the protection against noise were improved, exposure to traffic noise has remained at a high level in Germany over the past years. The main reason for this is a continuous growth in traffic. Recreational and neighbourhood noise also plays a significant role.
Targets and strategies of protection against noise
Noise is a relevant problem in society. The exposure of the population to noise must be reduced. Further measures are needed in particular regarding protection against traffic noise. The most efficient and sustainable strategy is to combat noise at its source. The benchmark for limiting emissions must be the best available technology. Limit values for noise from road and rail vehicles and aircraft have to be set and updated accordingly. In addition, generating as little noise as possible is important in traffic management. Noise reduction technology must also be updated and implemented for equipment and machinery which generate relevant noise emissions in living environments. Where emission limit values are not sufficient or practical to resolve the problem of noise emissions, additional measures for the prevention or mitigation of noise must be taken.
Policy of the German Government
Noise mapping and noise action plans
Strategic noise mapping and noise action plans are important new tools of noise protection in Germany. They are established in the Federal Immission Control Act of June 2005, which transposed the Environmental Noise Directive into German national law. Pursuant to the Act, noise maps will be drawn up for all major roads, major railways, major airports and agglomerations. Based on these noise maps, noise action plans will be elaborated in consultation with the public. They are intended to avoid or mitigate environmental noise and to prevent an increase in noise for quieter areas.
Measures against traffic noise
The lead ministry on the issue of traffic noise is the Federal Ministry of Transport. In the interministerial steering group, the Federal Environment Ministry strongly advocates that lower limit values for noise from motor vehicles, powered two-wheelers and tyres should reflect improvements in the best available technologies at both EU and international level. Quieter road surfaces have to be developed and used as well. Measures such as calming traffic and shifting to more environmentally sound modes of transport also serve the purpose of noise protection. The modernisation programme for existing federal trunk roads helped to relieve hotspots of noise over the past years. The Traffic Noise Protection Ordinance implementing the Federal Immission Control Act applies to the construction of new roads and the expansion of existing ones. The Ordinance lays down that ambitious noise protection measures must be taken to avoid or mitigate significant disadvantages and annoyance.
Measures against aircraft noise
The Länder are establishing new zones with building restrictions in the vicinity of airports and military airfields pursuant to the amended Air Traffic Noise Act, submitted by the Federal Environment Ministry in June 2007. This also means that a larger share of the local population is entitled to structural sound insulation. Ordinances on implementing the amended Air Traffic Noise Act serve the uniform and efficient enforcement of the Act and provide legal certainty. They also establish quality requirements for structural sound insulation of residential buildings in noise protection areas. In the interministerial steering group, the Federal Environment Ministry also champions measures for protection against night-time noise, for taking better account of noise protection in planning flight routes and in the management of flight operations and for noise reductions at the source.
Measures against railway noise
The lead ministry on the issue of railway noise is the Federal Ministry of Transport. In the interministerial steering group, the Federal Environment Ministry advocates for the introduction of EU-level limit values for noise from existing rolling stock and continuing them for new rolling stock. The noise-based price system for railways is to create incentives for a noise-reducing retrofitting of freight cars, which holds great potential for noise reduction. In addition, the modernisation programme for railway tracks is an important instrument for improving protection against noise from rail traffic.
Measures against noise from industrial and commercial installations
The Federal Immission Control Act and the Technical Instructions on Noise Abatement (TA Lärm) are German instruments for protecting the population from noise from commercial activities. In line with this legislation, licenses for the operation of industrial or commercial installations are only issued if there are no adverse effects on the environment due to noise.
Measures against neighbourhood noise
Effective protection against noise created by mobile and in increasing numbers stationary equipment and machinery in residential areas has to be ensured in the long term. At EU level, the Federal Environment Ministry therefore advocates establishing and updating ambitious limit values for noise in line with the best available technology. Also, the Ordinance on the Protection against Noise from Equipment and Machinery implementing the Federal Immission Control Act contains provisions on operating equipment and machinery in residential areas and other areas that merit protection. It also introduced advantages for the users of low-noise equipment and machinery.
Measures against noise from sports and leisure activities
The Federal Immission Control Act and the Ordinance on Protection against Noise from Sports Facilities are instruments for ensuring protection against noise from sports facilities in Germany. For the protection against noise from leisure facilities, the Federal Immission Control Act is supplemented with provisions at Länder level to take local and regional particularities into consideration.
In contrast to noise from installations, behaviour-related noise became an exclusive legislative competence of the Länder after the Federal Reform.
Noise can best be avoided or mitigated at the source: every road user can contribute to noise protection through considerate driving. Consumers can buy quieter vehicles or tyres. Some distances can be covered on foot or by bike. Not every activity relating to hobbies or gardening has to involve the use of loud equipment or machinery. Waste glass should not be thrown into public collection containers at noon time. In principle, apart from the main sources of noise, everyone should bear in mind that noise may be a nuisance for others, even though we ourselves do not mind it.