Noise is not at the top of the agenda for many transport companies. But restrictions are on the rise. Here’s why it’s important for transport providers to take a serious look at the issue.
Despite it being a relatively forgotten topic in the popular debate about environment and health, noise impacts our societies and well-being immensely.
Road traffic remains by far the biggest culprit of environmental noise: at least 100 million people are exposed to levels of traffic noise that exceed recommended levels according to the EU. A 2018 study estimates that the social cost of noise and air pollution in the EU is up to €1 trillion every year
But beyond being a major nuisance, why should noise matter to you as a transport operator? There are two significant ways in which noise might be impacting your operations;
Noise inside the cab directly affects driver safety, comfort and productivity. High in-cab noise levels can cause a host of health problems including hypertension. Studies with truck and bus drivers have shown that systolic pressure (the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats) and high pulse rate are significantly related to noise levels inside a truck.
Moreover noise from various on-board systems, heaters, fans, air conditioning or refrigerators can prevent a driver from sleeping soundly while low, monotonous sounds when driving have been shown to reduce brain activity and cause drowsiness.
This is why investing in a truck where a lot work has been put into reducing noise, improving sound insulation and ensuring alerts are communicated clearly and at the right sound level, is a must for any company that is serious about driver health.
There is no denying that trucks are getting quieter; in fact it takes 10 modern diesel trucks to reach the noise level of a truck from the 1970’s. Having said that, trucks still emit considerable noise externally which affects broader communities.
As overall traffic levels in cities increases and more information is known about the effect of noise on health, cities are getting more serious about reducing noise through various noise abatement policies. All cities in the EU, for example, are required to map noise and keep it under set levels. While effective in improving health and quality of life, noise abatement policies also put limitations on transport operators about when they can access key customers.
I believe this is a missed opportunity on many fronts as the ability to deliver during off-peak hours, at night for instance, would help the transport industry achieve significant efficiencies.
For example, off-peak deliveries would allow operators use vehicles for longer periods of time, reduce time and fuel spent idling in traffic. It would also make it possible to give end-customers more reliable timescales for delivery/collection. There would even be benefits for road safety as allowing trucks to operate during a time of less road congestion would reduce the likelihood of accidents involving other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. And the positives would not just be limited to long-haul or distribution; for developers involved in major construction projects, quiet, off-peak deliveries could improve traffic flows and lessen the impact on the surrounding communities.
Given this potential, many transport operators and cities are exploring off-peak deliveries. For example, in a Stockholm study with a large supermarket chain, three trucks delivering goods in the evening could be replaced with a single truck between the prohibited hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The same study found that driving speed at night could be 31% higher than the morning rush hour and that an estimated 267 SEK savings could be made per delivery.
In the UK, a number of Quiet Delivery Schemes (QDS) is being implemented in central London as well as smaller towns, with measurable success (you can read more about scheme here) In the US meanwhile, New York’s very successful Off-Hour Delivery (OHD) initiative is encouraging other cities to adopt similar programs. Around the world, urban authorities are testing a special "protocol" where vehicles that meet specific noise criteria can perform distribution services during evenings, despite noise restrictions.
Looking ahead, there is no doubt that noise and our ability to reduce it will open up new opportunities. As a transport operator it’s important to understand how noise might be impacting your operations and consider ways in which you could reduce it to the benefit of your business, customers and the communities which you serve.
At Volvo Trucks we have been working in several national and international collaboration projects aiming to reduce noise pollution in transport. I have prepared a guide that outlines some of the lessons learned from quiet delivery schemes and some of the key steps that you, as a trucking company, can take to implement an off-peak delivery scheme.