The Rider Nation Blog
Understanding New York’s Flawed SLEEP Act
On October 29, 2021, the New York State Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution Act (or SLEEP Act) was signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul. Let’s go over what this law establishes, and why—even without factoring in our bias as riders—it is a bad idea and implemented poorly.
What is the SLEEP Act?
Shorthand for NY Senate Bill S784B, the SLEEP Act establishes penalties for modifying mufflers and exhaust systems. If an individual is found to have modified this equipment, sold a device that is intended to increase the noise a vehicle makes or installed such equipment, they could face a fine of $1000 and/or jail time. A motorist riding a bike in violation of this law could be faced with a misdemeanor.
As the bill states:
“Every motor vehicle, operated or driven upon the highways of the state, shall at all times be equipped with an adequate muffler and exhaust system in constant operation and properly maintained to prevent any excessive or unusual noise, and no such muffler or exhaust system shall be equipped with a cut-out, bypass, or similar device. No person shall modify the muffler or exhaust system of a motor vehicle in a manner that will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the motor or exhaust system of such vehicle above that emitted by the muffler or exhaust system originally installed on the vehicle and such original muffler and exhaust system shall comply with all the requirements of this section.”
To Be Clear, the SLEEP Act Only Changes the Penalties for Infractions
Based on a letter received from Commissioner Mark Schroeder of the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles, this law is not new. I decided to do a couple of interviews to learn more, Shane Gatto, the Service Manager and Lead Performance & Design Consultant of Harley-Davidson of Utica, explained it during our talk:
“The law has not changed, at all. This is not new. This is not new legislation. This is something they’re going to act on, as far as enforcing it, with stiffer penalties.”
Gatto went on to explain that, since there has been some trouble with non-compliant vehicles, all vehicles in New York are now beholden to these laws—so, in addition to motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, cars, trucks, all vehicles are now banned from having open exhaust systems that are louder than a stock exhaust system. According to the commissioner, via a phone call placed by Gatto, any muffler that has a baffle in it is compliant with this law. But that’s not how the law reads.
Gatto has requested clarification from the commissioner's office in writing.
So, any cutout that bypasses the baffle—or a muffler that doesn’t have a baffle—would be seen as a violation. Beyond that, it is hard to say what might be considered to be out of the law’s parameters.
When I asked Gatto if my aftermarket exhaust (D&D M8 Billet Cat 2:1 Exhaust Pictured Below) was going to be ok even though they are louder than stock, he said according to the commissioner they are because I left my baffles in.
Why is This Law Being Passed?
Here’s the thing: there has not been a set decibel limit established to dictate what is acceptable, leaving it up to an officer’s discretion on whether or not someone should be pulled over. This gray area makes us question if this is simply a way for the state to collect some revenue.
Street racing has been a concern downstate, and that was cited as a reason behind the law in terms of the associated noise complaints, along with the concerns of pollution that noncompliant mufflers raise.
The SLEEP Act will Make Things More Challenging for Small Businesses
First, there are a few concerns in terms of how the law is written and seems to be enforced. For one, there’s no cutoff decibel reading established, according to Gatto.
Another motorcycle expert and technician, Jonathan Shaw (Owner of Shaw’s Cycles in Franklin, NY), had his own concerns about the law—namely, in terms of aftermarket sales. Half of his customers have—or come to him to have—aftermarket parts installed. So, as he reads and understands the law, these customers are in violation of the law if there is anything other than stock exhaust parts installed. He also acknowledged that the lack of a cutoff adds an additional challenge.
Of course, there will also be costs involved in returning any non-compliant bikes back into compliance that, depending on the situation, could cost anywhere from $75 to $1500. It’s this kind of uncertainty that is the biggest concern for us… there’s just a lot that isn’t clear.
Gatto also explained that, while the commissioner’s office said one thing over the phone, he was (when I spoke to him) waiting to receive a written version of the law. This is largely because there were some potential discrepancies between different accounts and sources—and the law as written places no actual decibel level as the cutoff between legal and illegal. So, as Gatto said: if someone isn’t riding “out of the norm” (based on his own reading of the law) he’ll inspect any bike that has a baffled exhaust and isn’t “obnoxiously” loud.
We Want to Encourage You to Speak Out Against the SLEEP Act, Here's what you can do!
Don’t get us wrong—we’re all about being conscientious on the road, but the SLEEP Act as it is written is just too vague to be fair to any motorist, whether they’re behind the wheel or behind the handlebars. The way the law is written, some could argue is just a way to increase state revenue through tickets.
That’s why we want to ask you to support any petitions you stumble across, like this one, or this one, or any others you find that seek to have the SLEEP Act repealed and reconsidered. The only clear thing about this law is that it unfairly targets riders, and we want to do everything we can to help our fellow riders. Please help, if you can share a few moments.