Noise Levels and Emissions Standards


Driver description
Interactions with the Environment Domain
Interactions within the Social Domain
Interactions with the Economy Domain
Interactions with the Technology Domain
Impacts on Mobility and Transport

Driver description

  • “(...) ’environmental noise’ shall mean unwanted or harmful outdoor sound created by human activities, including noise emitted by means of transport, road traffic, rail traffic, air traffic, and from sites of industrial activity (...).” (Ref: CO_0203)
  • “Generally, action to reduce environmental noise has had a lower priority than actions taken to address other environmental problems such as air and water pollution. However, as more information has become available about the health impacts of noise, the need for a higher level of protection for European citizens has come to be recognized.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “On 25 June 2002, Directive 2002/49/EC of the European Parliament and the Council relating to the assessment and management of environment noise (...) Environmental Noise Directive, END was adopted.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “Its main objectives are: to monitor environmental noise, to address local issues, to inform the public about noise issues, to oblige local authorities to draw up noise maps and action plans for reducing noise exposure in and around major cities, roads, railway lines and airports.” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “Article 5 of the END[1] introduced noise indicators for reporting but does not set any legally binding EU-wide noise limit values or targets.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “(...) responsibility for setting noise exposure limits remains the competence of national authorities.” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “Member States were required to prepare no later than 30 June 2007 strategic noise maps. These requirements apply again on 30 June 2012 and for each subsequent five year period. Such noise maps should be made for all major roads, railways, airports and agglomerations pursuant to article 7 identified in the preceding calendar year.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “The assessment relating to the first round of noise mapping suggests that around 40 million people across the EU are exposed to noise above 50 dB from roads within agglomerations during the night. More than 25 million people are exposed to noise at the same level from major roads outside agglomerations. These numbers are expected to be revised upwards as more noise maps are received and/or assessed.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “Various possibilities must be utilised to achieve effective noise abatement. These include the following types of measures: traffic-related, technical; structural; urban design; planning-related; organisational.” (Ref: CO_0150)

 [1] European Noise Directive

Figure 1‑63 Breakdown of available measures to reduce, avoid or relocate the various types of noise source

Source: Guidelines for Road Traffic Noise Abatement (Ref: CO_0150)

  • “Noise reduction measures are naturally also needed in the rail and air traffic sectors. However, the local authorities have very limited scope for action in this area, due to the involvement of national and international administrative bodies. Nonetheless, decision-makers at the local authority level and noise experts should bear this issue in mind when devising noise abatement plans.” (Ref: CO_0150)
  • “There are essentially two routes to noise abatement. Firstly, noise emissions can be reduced at their source, through measures relating to vehicles/drivelines, tyres, road surfaces and traffic management. Secondly, noise can be abated by reducing the exposure of people by means of anti-propagation or insulation measures (by increasing the distance between source and recipient, for example, or hampering noise propagation by insulating buildings or constructing noise barriers).” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “Noise reduction measures at the noise source should be considered before applying noise barriers or protection measures at the receiver (insulation, soundproof windows, etc.).” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “(...) noise level reduction resulting from noise barriers is 2-25 dB depending on the specific design. This value is valid for façade-road distances of 50-150 m, and receiver heights up to 10 m. At larger distances and receiver heights the noise level reduction can be less. In case of a noise barrier at one side of the road, an increase of the noise level at the opposite side of the road can occur (...). However, barriers are only acceptable for roads where pedestrians do not have to cross and barriers may be visually unattractive.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “In the near future road traffic volumes will increase, resulting in an increase of noise emissions. The overall increase in road traffic volume tends to counterbalance the real noise reduction achieved by noise mitigation measures.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “An international standard for noise road surface classification systems should be developed, laying down terms for including acoustic performance in public contracts for road surfacing.” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “To guarantee the European population a healthier living environment, noise exposure standards should be set and enforced for several different environments (outdoor living area, dwelling interiors, schools, etc.), as is the case with current EU air quality standards. In quantifying these standards, the guidelines drawn up by the WHO could serve as a starting point. These exposure standards could then serve as an appropriate basis for the action plans prescribed in the EU Environmental noise directive.” (Ref: CO_0151)

Interactions within the Environment Domain

Pollution levels and emissions standards

  • “The potential for closer co-ordination and integration of air quality and noise management has been suggested frequently. The implementation of the Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008/50/EC) and its predecessors requires similar elements, e.g. the data collection in agglomerations, improvement of assessment methods, preparation of action plans, information of the public and reporting to the Commission.” (Ref: CO_0127)

Interactions with the Social Domain

Income structure and distribution

  • “It is an established fact that people who have no financial constraints on their choice of dwelling prefer ceteris paribus quiet locations to noisy ones.” (Ref: CO_0150)
  • “Epidemiological studies show, in accordance with the fact that socially disadvantaged people are more likely to live near busy roads, that noise annoyance due to traffic is often higher in people with a lower socioeconomic position. In addition, social inequalities in objectively assessed noise exposure have been demonstrated (Bolte, Tamburlini and Kohlhuber, 2010). However (...) it must be borne in mind that different transport types (such as road, train and air) may have different inequality profiles.” (Ref: CO_0215)
  • “The overall prevalence of complaints about noise from neighbors or from the street varies by country between 10% and 35%, with an average of 22% across EU27 (2009 figures). In the majority of the 30 reporting countries, self-reported noise exposure at home is higher among individuals living in relative poverty, although in six countries this pattern is reversed. Prevalence in EU27 is 25% among individuals below the relative poverty threshold and 22% among those above it. However, when the countries are grouped into subregions, the prevalence difference between the two income categories is present in EU15 countries (26% versus 22%) but disappears in NMS12 countries (21% for both income categories).” (Ref: CO_0215)


  • “Urbanization, growing demand for motorized transport and inefficient urban planning are the main driving forces for environmental noise exposure. Furthermore, noise pollution is often linked to urban areas where also air quality can be a problem.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “Road traffic is a main source of noise in urban areas, accounting for about 80 % of total noise pollution.” (Ref: CO_0150)
  • “(...) the nature and volume of the present traffic mix continue to raise serious public concern about the effects of noise and vibration in the urban environment. This has been exacerbated in recent years by the proliferation of calming measures, designed to improve safety by reducing average speeds, but giving rise to more frequent deceleration/acceleration events.” (Ref: CO_0260)
  • “Sound insulating materials can be applied to buildings in order to reduce noise levels. The noise reduction of insulated glazing and ventilation provisions is typically 5-20 dB (...). Soundproof windows may serve as protection against noise. However, such windows have to be closed to be effective, which may be an unwanted restriction for many people, especially during the summer. Also reductions up to 20 dB can be obtained in case of closed façades (no windows that can be opened) or dwellings integrated in noise barriers. However, in these cases the closed façade and noise barrier side must preferably be situated to the north or east.” (Ref: CO_0144)


  • “The limiting of noise in urban areas should play an essential role in present city planning.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “New housing areas should be planned from the outset in a way that ensures that at least the central area is quiet. This involves designating the centre of new areas as pedestrian and cycling zones, or at least providing traffic calming measures.” (Ref: CO_0150)
  • “The building orientation with respect to the road is an important parameter that influences noise level. Whether or not building blocks close to roads are connected influences noise propagation. The noise reduction potential is dependent on the specific situation. Furthermore, the reduction of noise propagation could be taken into account in road design and construction.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “Mixing of land-uses can reduce the need to travel, leading to less transport noise.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “While one aim of planning is to reduce loud noise at black spots, another important goal is to preserve areas which are still tranquil.” (Ref: CO_0150)
  • “Land-use planning and management is an effective means to ensure that the activities taking place nearby airports are compatible with aviation. Its main goal is to minimize the population affected by aircraft noise by introducing land-use zoning around airports. Compatible land-use planning and management is also a vital instrument in ensuring that the gains achieved by the reduced noise of the latest generation of aircraft are not offset by further residential development around airports. Aircraft-noise management measures in the ‘Land-use planning and management’ category include both planning of the (urban) area in the vicinity of an airport and planning of new runways of an airport (or a new airport). In general, from an environmental point of view new runways or a new airport should be planned as far as possible from urban areas.” (Ref: CO_0144)


  • “Good information for the public about noise abatement measures is important for acceptance by the public, certainly where restrictions are imposed. It is important to raise awareness among the urban population about the effect of its choice of transport mode on the quality of the urban environment in general and the noise climate specifically. However, it is also the duty of local authorities to promote the use of more sustainable transport modes and to provide alternatives for people to walk, cycle and use public transport instead of driving alone.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “To achieve a high degree of acceptance for the realization of noise-abatement measures by the public, a well structured participation and consultation process is crucial. Based on the principles of dialogue, discussion, and exchange of experience, it will become clear to the public that noise pollution is everyone’s business and that everyone can contribute to the reduction of annoyances and disturbances from noise.” (Ref: CO_0150)


  • “Environmental noise is a significant environmental problem across the EU. Increasingly more information is becoming available about the health impacts of noise.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “Noise pollution can annoy, disturb sleep, affect the cognitive function in schoolchildren, cause physiological stress reactions and can cause cardiovascular problems in chronically noise exposed subjects. Stress can trigger the production of certain hormones which may lead to a variety of intermediate effects, including increased blood pressure. Over a prolonged period of exposure these effects may in their turn increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and psychiatric disorders.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “In the current Directive, Member States are required to use specified noise indicators of Lden[1] and Lnight[2] and report the noise exposure of the population of 55 dB and 50 dB or more, respectively. However, the current reporting neglects the fact that there is a considerable share of EU population exposed to noise pollution at lower levels which are still likely to cause harmful effects on health. According to the latest WHO[3] recommendations, reporting bands of the indicator values of Lnight should be lowered to 40 dB, Lnight in order to achieve a much more realistic assessment of noise pollution impacts across the EU.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “Of all the adverse effects of traffic noise the most widespread is simply annoyance.” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “Annoyance is an emotional state connected to feelings of discomfort, anger, depression and helplessness.” (Ref: CO_0128)
  • “Sleep disturbance and annoyance, mostly related to road traffic noise, are the key health issues. At least one million healthy life years are lost every year from traffic-related noise in western European countries, including the EU Member States (WHO, 2011).” (Ref: CO_0215)

[1] day-evening-night noise indicator

[2] day-evening-night noise indicator

[3] World Health Organization

Interactions with the Economy Domain

GDP trends

  • “The social cost of road traffic noise in the EU22 is estimated to be at least 38 (30 - 46) billion per year, which is approximately 0.4% of total GDP in the EU22. For rail, estimates of social costs due to noise are about 2.4 (2.3 - 2.5) billion per year (about 0.02% of total EU22 GDP). It should be noted that this takes into account only effects related to noise levels above 55 dB(A), while people may also be adversely affected by noise below this level. Hence, the social cost estimates presented here probably underestimate the actual costs.” (Ref: CO_0151)

Availability of public and private resources and investments in the transport sector

  • “Economic costs of noise pollution include devaluation in house prices, productivity losses from health related impacts and distributional impacts. Social costs are related to premature death or morbidity (poor concentration, fatigue, hearing problems).” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “According to the 2011 Commission's White Paper on Transport, the noise-related external costs of transport would increase to roughly 20 billion € by 2050 unless further action was taken.” (Ref: CO_0127)
  • “Noise abatement policies will have major economic benefits. Less people will be annoyed by traffic noise and the incidence of health problems will decline. With their sleep less disturbed, people may also be more productive at work.” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “Noise abatement policies will generate cost savings for government, too. Expenditures on the health system will be lower due to a decline in noise-related health problems.” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “There are several ways to minimize the costs of noise mitigation measures. In case of already existing noise sources, noise mitigation measures can be applied simultaneously with renovation or maintenance activities (e.g. renovation of buildings can be combined with applying soundproof windows). In case of constructing new noise sources or new noise sensitive buildings near noise sources, it is most cost effective to reduce noise levels by taking it into account in the planning process (so that noise source and receiver are separated sufficiently, for example).” (Ref: CO_0144)

Fiscal policy

  • “Taxes can be applied for several purposes, e.g. to cover costs (for the road being used) or to influence the public’s behavior. A differentiation of motor vehicle taxes may be applied. In Germany and Austria use of low-noise vehicles is stimulated by lower taxes and these vehicles are also excluded from night time restrictions.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “Fuel taxes can be an incentive to reduce noise as they influence the distance travelled.” (Ref: CO_0144)

Interactions with the Technology Domain

Technology development and innovation diffusion

  • “The field of transportation has many areas for innovation.(...) Noise is another issue that is calling for innovation (…).” (Ref: CO_0284)

New vehicles design

  • “Much of the research on aircraft noise over the past 30 years has been aimed at reducing noise at the source. Aero planes and helicopters built today are required to meet the latest ICAO[1] noise certification standards.” (Ref: CO_0144)

[1] International Civil Aviation Organization

Material technology

  • “The greatest road traffic noise reduction may be obtained by technical measures at source applied to the power train, tyre/road interaction, and the road surface.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “Renewing road surfaces or replacing rough paving with smooth asphalt is another action that can be taken to reduce sound levels and noise impact. Measures need to be taken to ensure that vehicle speeds do not increase following the resurfacing of the road.” (Ref: CO_0150)
  • “In addition to power train and tyre/road measures, application of low-noise road surfaces such as thin-layer, double layer, porous and poroelastic asphalt leads to considerable noise level reductions. Depending on driving speed and surface type the noise level reduction may be up to 8 dB.” (Ref: CO_0144)

Energy efficiency

  • “For aircraft, noise levels and fuel consumption can go in opposite directions. For example, a move to efficient open-rotor designs would increase noise.” (Ref: CO_0154)
  • “For cars, the emergence of low-rolling-resistance tyres and near-silent electric propulsion systems offer the potential for significantly quieter vehicles and less energy use. A minimum level of noise may need to be generated by electric vehicles (EVs) to avoid increases in vehicle-pedestrian accidents.” (Ref: CO_0154)
  • “Train technologies are becoming generally quieter. Improving energy efficiency in most cases helps reduce noise levels.” (Ref: CO_0154)

Impacts on Mobility and Transport

Reduction of  speed of motor vehicles and traffic volumes in urban areas

  • “Limiting traffic speeds leads to a reduction of noise. Decreasing traffic speeds in urban areas by 10 km/h leads to a reduction in noise levels of 0.7-2.1 dB for speeds between 50 km/h and 100 km/h. The speed reduction measures should not lead to an increase in braking and accelerating or gear changing, since this could even lead to a net increase of noise levels. For example, traffic restraints like humps will reduce speed. Application of round-top road humps has a noise reduction potential of 2 dB. However, application of flat-top humps may even increase noise up to 6 dB (...).” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “Reducing traffic volumes reduces noise in the case that other conditions do not change. However, traffic volume and speed are generally related; a decrease in volume usually leads to an increase in speed.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “For traffic volume reductions between 10% and 50% a noise reduction between 0.5-3.0 dB may be obtained.” (Ref: CO_0144)

Different measures shall be applied to different vehicle fleets’ compositions

  • “The effect of various noise mitigation measures can depend on fleet composition. This composition may be different for different countries; e.g. the Mediterranean fleet contains a relatively large number of two-wheeled motor vehicles (Rome and Barcelona have the largest numbers of two-wheel motor vehicles). Furthermore the percentage of heavy-duty vehicles contained in the fleet influences noise emissions. Should the percentage of heavy duty vehicles be lowered from 10% to 0% a noise reduction of 1.4 dB and 1.9 dB is obtained at traffic speeds of 50 km/h and 80 km/h respectively. It should be noted that these reductions seem rather high; the Dutch road model yields 1.4 and 0.1 dB, respectively.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “Only in regions where motorcycles make up a significant fraction of the overall vehicle fleet they are a major contributor to ambient noise levels. Although it is mainly in urban settings that this noise problem is noticed and reported, their annoyance potential is also high elsewhere because of the high percentage of illegal noise-increasing mufflers fitted and often aggressive driving behaviour. A Swedish noise annoyance study identified motorcycle noise as by far the most annoying form of vehicle-related noise. Consequently, measures to address the use of such mufflers need to be given the highest priority.” (Ref: CO_0151)

Stricter noise restrictions should be applied to new  motor vehicles

  • “Furthermore, local authorities are in the right position to influence noise mitigation by requiring ambitious noise specifications when vehicles are purchased.” (Ref: CO_0144)

Fostering the use of public transport

  • “Travelling by public transport instead of in private cars generally leads to less congestion and is more energy efficient, less air polluting, and less noisy (the noise emission per capita is lower). An advantage of public transport concerning noise is that the noise source is more concentrated, making it easier to apply noise mitigation measures at the source.” (Ref: CO_0144)

Increase in measures tackling noise for railway (vehicles, tracks, research activities)

  • “In general, railway noise affects less people than that of road and air traffic, and moreover, people are more tolerant towards railway noise than towards road and air traffic noise. As a consequence of the modal shift (...), however, one can expect that without noise reduction measures the number of people affected by railway noise will increase” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “Noise is one of the most significant environmental impacts of rail traffic.” (Ref: CO_0151)
  • “Noise pollution from railways remains one of the main barriers for expanding their use in urban areas and along densely populated rail freight corridors.” (Ref: CO_0089)
  • “Railway noise abatement is also part of the EC Greening transport package, which aims to move transport further towards sustainability. One of the objectives is a 50% reduction of the perceived noise from existing rail freight trains. Seventeen instruments for railway noise abatement: retrofitting of existing railway rolling stock, noise reception limits, noise emission ceiling, access restrictions for noisy vehicle types/trains, noise emission regulations for vehicles, programmes to manage rail roughness, track upgrading or new design, regulations for tracks, specifications for noise emissions in procuring/ordering new vehicles and tracks, incentives for the use of low noise vehicles, public funding for noise abatement programmes, voluntary agreements, Member State and EU funding for research and development, information to stakeholders, improved measurement standard for railway exterior noise, comprehensive noise prediction scheme, information and participation of the public.” (Ref: CO_0144)

Increase in measures tackling noise for air mode (engines, airport design and related infrastructures)

  • “ (…) aircraft noise is often the reason for the difficulty of expanding airport capacity at major European hubs.” (Ref: CO_0089)
  • “Noise abatement procedures enable reduction of noise during aircraft operations to be achieved at comparatively low cost. There are several methods, including preferential runways and routes, as well as noise abatement procedures for take-off, approach and landing. The appropriateness of any of these measures depends on the physical layout of the airport and its surroundings, but in all cases the procedure must give priority to safety considerations.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “In general, aircraft-noise reduction strategies and measures should comply with the so-called ‘balanced approach’ to aircraft noise management around airports, as formulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The ICAO ‘balanced approach[1]’ was implemented in EU legislation by Directive 2002/30/EC, which deals with the establishment of rules and procedures with respect to the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at EU airports.” (Ref: CO_0144)
  • “In 2020, aircraft are cleaner and quieter and the aeronautics sector’s contribution to a sustainable environment is widely understood and appreciated. Aircraft noise is no longer a political and social issue. It has ceased to be a nuisance to people living close to airports thanks to a concerted effort to develop quieter engines, optimise operational procedures and improve land planning and use around airports.” (Ref: CO_2043)

[1] “The 33rd ICAO Assembly has adopted Resolution A33/7 introducing the concept of a ‘balanced approach’ to noise management, thereby establishing a policy approach to address aeroplane noise, including international guidance for the introduction of operating restrictions on an airport-by-airport basis. The ‘balanced approach’ concept of aircraft noise management comprises four principal elements and requires careful assessment of all different options to mitigate noise, including reduction of aeroplane noise at source, l and-use planning and management measures, noise abatement operational procedures and operating restrictions, without prejudice to relevant legal obligations, existing agreements, current laws and established policies.” (Ref. CO_0218)