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Safety Beeper, Noise Pollution

A few years ago, John Walker moved out of a nice house in Muir Beach because all around him there were construction machines with beepers. You know those beepers, they kick in whenever the machine is in reverse. They're very piercing. I've been beeped all week by a chihuahua of a machine, a little Bobcat that's loading dirt from a neighbor's swimming-pool excavation into dump-trucks.


This neighbor has a Hummer, and he washes it on the weekend, taking about an hour, and it would be too quiet and perhaps wimpy to use a hose, so instead he uses a loud, gasoline-powered pump to shoot out a high-pressure stream worthy of his mighty Hornswoggle.

Noise pollution is a modern tragedy. Just as a random for instance, you may notice that these days how airplane flights from the Bay Area to NY are often routed so that the pilot can always say, “You can see Yosemite Park down there,” and everyone is “Oooh.” This means, however, that if you go hiking in Yosemite these days, there is a more-or-less steady stream of planes going by overhead.


And don't let me get started on leaf-blowers. Oh, well, why not. In Saucer Wisdom I had this idea for noise-attacking bees: Shush Bees. I find the noise begins to drive the rhythms of my thoughts, I begin in effect humming the sound to myself. I find myself waiting, waiting for it to stop. And then another noise polluter helps himself to a piece of the peace-pie. Sometimes I spend a whole Saturday waiting for a moment of calm.



Up the street is more construction; but a pleasant kind, there's just the irregular and human-scale beat of hammers. The electrican has a nice piece of old-timey clip-art on his sign; these kinds of images always remind me of the hallowed Pamphlet #1 of the Church of the SubGenius which is *wow* viewable in its entirety online, just keep pressing the little forward arrow at the bottom of the page that link takes you to. Or order the dang thing in paper . I'll never forget the impact this pamphlet had on me when I read it in, like, 1983. The world wasn't as noisy back then.

25 Responses to “Safety Beeper, Noise Pollution”

  1. A.R.Yngve Says:

    Remember that scene in the movie AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL, where William Shatner appears as the Moonbase commander?
    “We have literally hundreds of blinking lamps here! Blinking and beeping, blinking and beeping… I can’t stand it!!”
    Now THAT’s predicting the future! 😉

  2. emilio Says:

    From one father to another, Happy Father’s day.
    The subgenius pamphlet looks great. I sent a link to my son:-). I will take a longer look later.
    Here is an idea for dealing with noise: listen to it from the silence it is immersed in.

  3. Mashuren Says:

    The worst, the absolute WORST, are freight trains. I live right beside the railroad tracks, and (as if the thing doesn’t make enough noise to hear it chugging along from miles away) the “conductor” always insists on blowing his horn pretty much constantly when he comes through this way. You can HEAR the train, those mechanical arm things come down long before the train ever gets here, there’s NO reason to blow your horn and wake everyone up when plowing through a residential area at 4 in the morning.
    At least they only come by every once in awhile… I guess in the grand scheme of things, I’d rather have the occassional brain-piercing shriek of a train than the constant, cacophonous, droning dull roar of traffic in a big city.

  4. Bill Says:

    Beepers at 4:21 Am six days a week, that’s what we have here in SF with the deconstruction of the Central freeway and construction of the Octavia Boooolevaard!
    No lie. The smaller cross streets have been blocked off as dead ends while the construction proceeds, this leads to the Sunset (yeah right) Scavengers having to back up down the block beeping and stopping then beeping and stopping as they edge up toward our flat.
    Oh joy, and I’m not even addressing the crash that comes about with the lift and dump of the recycling bins.
    But on the bright side, I’ve become something of a insomniac and thus, found your site to look around in Thanks,

  5. Steve H Says:

    Rudy – when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep, I could hear the faraway hum of diesel trucks making their way up the highway, eighteen miles straight from the last town. I’d hear them change gears as they came in sight of the redlight three miles away, hear them stop and wait it out, then gear back up and work their way back up to speed, heading for the coast in the pre-dawn hours when everyone else slept. I could hear night trains dutifully hooting at each empty crossing and hear the wheels clattering as each car crossed pavement, three miles away at the redlight. Now I live on the other side of town, down a dirt road with resident deer, and there’s a constant hum of traffic all night long (ironically from a bypass built so trucks can avoid that same redlight) and a purple glow in the sky. Ah, progress! But, you wanna talk noise pollution? I live near frogs and whippoorwills. . .

  6. Omie Says:

    I moved to Chapel Hill, Tn back in Feb. 2007 and didn’t know that the trains would be such a problem with me. But they run here all day and night. But at night they blow their horns and you can hear them for miles. There are some we think blow their horns at 3:00 in the morning just to anoy the people living here. There are times when I would like to move, and I ask myself why did I agree to move to this town. The trains are way to loud and there are a lot of people who live by them and have all their lives, I guess they are use to it. but will I get use to it? Are will I decide to move again?

  7. Jason Says:

    Who would have guessed NYC, this sleepy little town could be so noisy. I live in the art district on 22nd and 10th ave in manhattan. Next to a Time Warner building, I would bet my street could make where u guys live sound like a babbling brook. The back up beepers HAVE GOT TO STOP! They dont really save lives. No one is dumb enought not to know a truck is coming close to them, you shouldnt be that close to begin with. How many times am i behind a huge truck? Never. Between Time Warner and these nightly garbage trucks that of course everyone on our street has a diffrent company come get there trash. At least 15 trucks roar down the street switching gears along the way. 5am like clock work starts time warners trucks beep beep beep beeeep beeeeep beeeeeep beeeeeeep beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. then parking them at 7 same thing. and all the other trucks in the daytime between. as i type there goes another one. Please start a petetion to silence the back up beeper. Law suit america! look what we have created. Just wanted to vent. thanks.

  8. Tina Says:

    We recently moved to the Arkansas Valley in Colorado. Trains pass through here laden with coal dozens of times a day and night. We are about a mile from the tracks. It’s not so much the noise of the rails as it is the whistling. It seems to be at the discretion of the train driver how much they whistle. 3 am, 4 am, it’s incredibly loud. The whole valley is affected. I’d like to get a coalition going, but this has been going on for decades, why has nobody ever tried stopping this? What’s the applicable noise pollution law?

  9. Ellen Bryson Says:

    Geez, so glad someone else is finally bothered by those truck beeping. I hate it! I’ve hated it since I first heard one in 1987. (Did they pass the law just before then?) I think it is total overkill on safety. I can only imagine they are doing it for the sake of blind people, but is it necessary for 20,000 people to hear the noise designed to save one person. Not kidding, I used to work on the 23rd floor of a building in Philadelphia and could hear the beeping on the street below. And no way was that truck going to get me way up in the air.

    We need technology to save us from this stuff. Like you could carry some device that listened for a signal from trucks etc. It could give off an audible alarm or vibrate mode when it senses the signal of a truck backing up. The rest of us without the device could be blissfully ignorant, relying on what our eyes tell us.

    My big beef in my home town is the emergency vehicles that plow through town with their sirens screaming. It’s almost eardrum piercing. And it’s not for the pedestrians, who can easily hear them at a much lower volume. It’s for the damn cars that have windows rolled up and radios inside blasting and won’t get out of the way. How bout we send the signal through the car radios and leave the pedestrians at some normal warning volume?


  10. hans Says:

    automated voices are now on buses, trains, department and grocery stores. loud and obnoxious. i’d bring it up while shopping, but i’m afraid i’ll instill my phobia in a poor soul who can’t escape. AND PLANES!!! it seems a minute of quiet from the sky is a rarity. i don’t even live next to an airport but some barely visible plane always seems to be loudly scraping the sky. this hollowed amplified droning is unbearable. we can’t enjoy being anywhere these days with out noise. and for those with wind chimes, destroy them!

  11. paradoctor Says:

    What gets me is when I call the bank, and the phone-tree robot says “please hold while I transfer your call”. While ‘I’ transfer your call? Isn’t that robot being a bit presumptuous?
    It’s not noise pollution, more like identity pollution.

  12. Jan Carlson Says:

    I can’t believe how awful an experience the grocery store has become. What used to be a pleasant slide down the aisle to the soothing muzak has become a scaccato invasion of snapping and popping sounds (very loud in some stores) coming from the scanning machines at the checkout. Among the worst offenders in my area are the Jewel Food Stores. I used to do most of my shopping there – now I’m down to grabbing a few items and going through the self-checkout (where you can adjust the volume). Unfortunately the other scanners can be heard all over the store. It is a maddening problem and the managers claim weakly that some checkers are hard of hearing! You would think that’s all they hired! What did they do during the previous decades? Was it a constant sea of red ink because of items not scanned? If anyone has had any success with these companies I’d like to know how! Thanks.

  13. alicia hart Says:

    I was so glad to find your site and discover I am not alone in detesting the backup beepers – I would gladly sacrifice a few little Johnnies or Betty’s for the sake of a some peace and quiet.

    The world has gone mad – I call it ‘The New Vulgarity’ – loud cell phone talkers,
    leaf blowers, people idling their engines, and BIKERS who take off their
    baffles! (THEY are the WORST) –

    I live in Salem, MA and if you value tranquility – don’t come here –
    the place (which is beautiful) has turned into a zoo – and the noise situation
    is completely out of control!

  14. Mike Donovan Says:

    The back-up beepers are an atrocity. It’s complete insanity to disturb millions of people severely thousands of times a day to maybe, just maybe, save one life.
    Curently the Brookline Police Department disturbs the peace of my neighborhood with very loud back-up beepers every single night at 3:30 a.m. pulling up to write parking tickets. To serve and disturb. Every night. How is anyone supposed to sleep?
    We lifted the speed limit from 55 to various higher sppeds a while back knowing full well that it would result in more deaths. That has happened. We raised the speed limit and more people die. But everyone is happy about it because it is a ll about freedom and the pursuit of happiness, which is one of the rights granted in the Declaration of Independence, a document written by Thomas Jefferson, a man who once wrote that “good government is less government.” He certainly would not support back-up beepers if we could consult him from the grave.
    The beepers begand in 1976 under the Ford administration and they are not in place to protect the pedestrian who could get killed by the worker. They are only in place to protect the workers from harm and the insurance companies from having to write payout to families. We all have to suffer from the beepers so the odds can go up for the insurance companies.
    Life in the city used to have a nice sound to it, a nice rythem. Even a noisy city still had its audio beauty. People chatting, engines humming, birds, and various machines making the noise of their natural tasks. One could live in the city and still love the noise of it. I could sleep through heavy traffic any day of the week prior to the invasion of the beepers.
    Now it is impossible to sleep. It is impossible to read. It is impossible to relax or just charge your batteries and meditate. I hear back-up beepers constantly and that’s without a construction project. If you live near any construction project, that is just a living hell of back-up beepers.
    I’ve witnessed projects outside my door where six or eight different back-up beepers are going non-stop all day for several weeks. It makes life pretty bad. I have to spend the day downtown at coffee shops or at the library. it makes things literally unbearable.
    Why should back-up beepers be so loud that they can be heard several blocks away several stories high and three rooms deep inside a building with music playing? That is not an exaggeration, that is reality.
    The first rule of back-up beepers is that you never hear a few burst and its over. That would be bad enough. They always are good for several rounds of 20 or 30 each.
    What about a mother with a sick child in a poor neighborhood who is trying to nurse the baby through a long nap. The Russian proverb is that “sleep is better than medicine.” Well how much medicine is being denied to millions of Americans every day by the back-up beepers? If the purpose of the beepers is health and safety, how does it make any sense to deprive millons of sleep and rest in the name of making us safer? There are dozens of books by learned person under University auspices who prove beyond any doubt that noise pollution does the human body measurable physical harm. Those beepers are harming us.
    I have been on the lookout for 20 years for a single news story where the bottom line is a back-up beeper that saved a life. I have never seen one.
    Why should construction workers be the only one’s that get a special deal for safety? How bout if everyone gets a bracelet that sets off an alarm every time we step off a sidewalk? The alarm can be heard for blocks. That could save lives. It would probably save more lives than the beepers.
    Of all the million noises they could have chosen for the beepers, they chose the one that attacks the central nervous system the most. That noise was chosen from a great contest long ago when they invented electric alarm clocks. The old wind-ip ringing bell had to be replaced with something really annoying, something designed to attack you and make you miserable until you absolutely have to shut off the alarm clock. You have no choice. When the beeping alarm clock won’t stop, you have no choice but to get out of bd and shut it off. Wow, what a relief. I have to go to work, but at least that damn beeping alarm clock is off.
    But with the back-up beeper you face the same situation but you have no control to shut it off. Its a noise that was designed to be completely intolerable, and then they put it on every vehicle in the country and make it go off at insanely high volume every time the driver uses reverse gear. tell me this isn’t just a bad dream. How can this country be that stupid to allow this to happen?
    Gerald Ford complained about them in his memoirs, writing that first they tell us the beepers will protect the workers, but then recommend that the workers wear earphones for protection for the harm they did. Even the sitting president thought it was a bit much but he did sign on. I heard my first beepers in the summer of 1977. They redid my street in South Boston and the entire summer was a living hell of backup beepers.
    Its common to pontificate about how this country doesn’t read enough and how Americans can’t find places on maps. Well how the hell is anyone supposed to find time to read with back-up beepers and leafblowers going all day? I’ve shut my book in disgust thousands of times, surrendering the session to the beepers that will not stop.
    The soundscape gets no respect. the landscape gets all the respect and is just isn’t right and it isn’t fair. One guy wants to trim his hedges with an obscenely loud weedwacker and the quiet Sunday afternoon turns into a loud and unpleasant one for a half an hour.
    The beepers are the worst because they never stop. At least you don’t usually hear leafblowers at 4 am. But I hear back-up beepers in the middle of the night almost every night.
    And don’t forget the aftermath. Even when it finally stops, the memory of the beeper attack still lingers. When you hear a commercial jingle repeatedly, you find it is part of your brain now, whether you like the song or not. People can recall jingles from old commercials better than the visual images. Audio memories a re seared in stone. An angry word your way is better remembered than an angry glance. The back-up beepers are an assault on the inner serenity of every individual who is forced without warning to hear them. The human mind remembers everything. Everything we see and hear becomes a part of who we are.
    Studies have proven that individuals who are prepared to hear an unpleasant noises suffer far less physically from it than those who catch it unexpectedly. The guys driving those tractors know when the beepers are going to go off. We’re the ones’ that suffer.
    The plague of the back-up beepers is the worst thing that has ever happened to this country. One minute you’re happy. Then the beepers start. Then you’re not. Artificially imposed manic-depression through no fault of the patient.
    Some other time we’ll discuss 30 years of 67,000 false car alarms that never stopped a single theft, the 1,230 false fire alarms at hotels I stayed at and had to evacuate for no reason, and the scum puked up from Satan’s liver bile duct, the leafblower.
    We’ve become and overreactionary alarmist society of safety wimps. Every American is punished at airport security because others attacked our country. If they ever start WTOC airlines, I’ll buy my travel tickets there. We’ll Take Our Chances Airlines, with minimal security clearance. And if we do catch someone trying to sneak on board with a bomb, we WON’T turn him over to the authorities.
    Let’s start a website with a giant petition of thousand of people who send in their horror stories about back-up beepers and train horns ect. Then we’ll print out a three thousand page copy and mail it to the next president. We have a right to the pursuit of happiness. The OSHA laws on beepers ae destroying the peaceful quality of every day life in America. Who wants to stand and browse in fron of a bookstore anymore, or sit at an outdoor cafe?
    Sure we can flee to the country, where it’s less of a problem (although no one can completely escape it unless your’e off some ten mile dirt road in Maine.) But it shouldn’t be the answer. I love the city. City noise that isn’t deliberate harassment insanity is a pleasant thing to me, not an unpleasant one.
    Sirens and pile drivers are tough luck pal noise pollutors. They are necessary and serve a purpose commeasurate with the sound they spew.
    But why should a back-up beeper on a flower delivery van pulling up into an empty space on a still and quiet street be given more noise priority than an ambulance rushing a sick person to a hospital emergency room. The van has trouble getting into a driveway and back-up beeps the neighborhood for five minutes 250 beeps. The siren scatters traffic for two minutes or less and is gone. The siren comes by once every few days, the flower van driver lives in your neigborhood and back-up beeps you out of a nap or a good mood every morning at 7 and every night at 6.
    We’re giving scoop shovels the same national emergency status we used to reserve for nuclear emergency testing. As a kid I heard practice nuke attack alarms a few times, not many. That was a serious test for a serious national concern. Now the same national emergency is declared for several blocks every time the dump trucks makes a reverse gear movement. There seems tobe a fairlty lage gap between the two emergencies.
    As God is my witness I am now under a beeper attack in Brookline Mass at 12:43 a.m.
    I’m going to close this out and go see what it is. Sorry about the typos.
    Mike Donovan

  15. Tom Says:

    Mike, thank you. As I sat screaming and yelling and throwing things in “quiet”, bucolic Westport, MA this morning, I wondered if I was the only one in this world who was enraged by the piercing, far reaching noise pollution of back-up beepers. I’m usually not one to read long dissertations on the internet, but I read every last word you wrote. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. It’s also nice to know that I’m not the only one whose brain seizes when those beeps start. And stop. And start.

    Are we too powerless in this country to do something about it? In MA, there are referendums on abolishing the state income tax, “legalizing” marijuana, etc. Surely we could put together a list of signatures to abolish back-up beepers on the ballot. I need to find out where to start.

    Tom Brooks

  16. Carole D. Says:

    I have read everything on this page and couldn’t agree more with the setiments expressed here. I have lupus and, among others things I am noise sensitive. Unfortunatel for me, I live in a building that is situated right next door to a large storage unit facility. All I can say is, it’s a damn good thing I don’t have a gun because I would have disabled quite a few beepers by now from my balcony which, unfortunately, faces the damn storage facilty.

    But this is what I’m gonna do. I am going to copy all of this and forward it to OSHA. Probably won’t make any difference as long as insurance companies have their minions lobbying Congress for favors … but somebody there should have to read this. Too bad I can’t attach a beeper that would sound through the entire reading!

  17. Psychodelia Says:

    Thanks guys,

    It doesn’t make the hateful beeping noise better, but to know there are other sane humans out there is reassuring. Once upon a time I wondered if I, too, was the only person enraged by these pricks of things. I recently watched the excellent American flick ‘Noise’ with Tim Robbins as a vigilante enraged by malfunctioning alarms and backup beepers, and frequently found myself hooting with laughter or feeling his pain as I could completely empathise with his character.

    The story by Mike Donovan in particular told it like it is! I, too, find it absolutely impossible to concentrate on anything when the beeping is doing its thing, and have also always made the comparison with an alarm clock that you are powerless to stop. Noise outside your control always constitutes the biggest nuisance. Studies have shown that noise pollution has the ability to make people less helpful and compassionate. In my particular case, I know this to be absolutely correct, it is unbelievably depressing and my head full of fantasies of taking to these machines of torture with an axe. And as for your sex life! What a total turn off, trying to have a good time with BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!

    The sheer bloody unfairness of it all is also a big part of it. It is obviously ineffective! A constant cacophony of beepers with the noise coming from all directions is not going to be noticed by workers – but it sure is by people a hell of a long way away! AND there are broadband beepers, not especially pleasant to hear, but a hell of a lot quieter, and directional, so obviously MUCH more effective. So why aren’t governments and councils going to more lengths to at least utilise these, instead of this LEGALISED TORTURE?

    I was recently at beautiful Rushcutters Bay in Sydney, a gorgeous spot on the harbour dotted with yachts, and these million dollar properties – and yep, you’ve guessed it, stupid bloody beeping machines coming from way across the bay and out of sight, but not out hearing, that’s for sure!

    There is a special spot in hell, and it is reserved for the inventors, legalisers, perpetrators, manufacturers and sellers of beepers and leaf blowers. May they be torturned there forever by their damned inventions!

  18. Tony Says:

    I live on a quiet, peaceful lake in upstate N.Y. except for about 2-5 hrs each morning. The highway dept. has their piles right behind my house. (Yes, I was there first.) At 6:15 the guys start up and I cant get the ringing out of my ears for hours. I look forward to getting to my “quiet” machine shop after an hour of that noise. I have purchased a back-up alarm that I intend to bring with me to all future town meetings. When they have to listen to this thing for an hour during the meeting, maybe they will get the message.

  19. Jim Says:

    Backup horns aree legally mandated noise polution. Solutions will be political and can only be accomplished by organizing the opposition. A starting point would be to research the legal requirements and then to at least hold the offenders to the minimum rquirements through local ordinances. This could eventually get the attention of Washington

  20. Jason Says:

    2 year update: Manhattan 22nd and 10. I got good news and bad news people. Time Warner moved there location! One day I realized hey something is missing from this morning its not sunday. All of a sudden they stopped, but the bad news is its only the tip of the damn back up beeper Iceberg. I still have to deal with 10 to 15 garbage truck companies, that come to stop, adjust there location, and with every adjustment the barrage starts. Dont get me wrong its a blessing, and im not even religious. That Time warners daily 5to7am and 6to8pm beeper assaults are done. But still since every art studio tears out the floor concrete and walls everytime they change a lightbulb. The assault continues. How are we doing? Ive been to busy with work, any luck?

  21. Steve D. Says:

    To Mike Donovan: Nice rant, but deaths *do not* increase whenever we’ve raised the speed limit. My theory is that when the speed limit was 55, half the people drove 75 and half drove 55. Highways are more dangerous when cars are travelling different speeds. If you raise the limit to 65, the slower drivers speed up and there is less variation in the speeds.

  22. Jim Says:

    I really hate these things. Sometimes we hear so many trucks beeping and idling in the neighborhood you would think we lived in the warehouse district.

  23. Kelly Says:

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!! I Googled and found this blog. I have school construction going on across the street — it’s going to last one-and-a-half years. I thought it would quiet down in the winter, but it’s actually worse. Why? Back-up beepers! I could tolerate the excavating and digging. But since November, some dude has been running back and forth all day just moving cinder blocks from one place in the lot to another, and then to another place, and then finally into the building. All the while, bleep flippety blinking bleep. He could TURN and drive forwards most of the time, but insists on backing up. And I’m only here experiencing this from 6:30-7:00 and 3:00-5:00. But it’s still enough to drive me crazy. And my poor neighbors (retired) are here all day. The lady was reduced to tears over this. This have NO peace, no quiet, no quality of life. Add to that the fact that my neighbor likes to mow the whole neighborhood and half the woods twice weekly for four hours each time, power washes everything, and loves the leaf blower. I will totally sign on to any petition that calls for some noise abatement in residential areas. Don’t get me started on the garbage truck that has to back down my alley at 6:00. Then he comes back at 10:00 and picks up the rest of the block.

  24. Bron Billt Says:

    I simply don’t understand why people ruin, no I mean RUIN their quality of life with these hateful noises. I live in a small rural town with a white church steeple. Nice. All during the week, we keep the windows and doors closed because of beeping trucks from 3 relatively distant (half to 2 miles away) developments. All day long 6 or 7 days a week. WTF? All because some idiot might walk behind the truck? Next they’ll have the beepers on cars. Can you really imagine what we are in for? And all you can hear ALL weekend is the constant noise of leafblowers and yard machines. I see kids playing in the dust kicked up while their dumb dad walks around with a 2 stroke on his back damaging his kids health because there’s a few leaves on his grass. I know we are a dumb country but we seem to be insane too.

  25. Rudy Says:

    Bron, I couldn’t agree more. Nice to see this old thread is still alive. I’m guessing/hoping that at some point…maybe twenty years from now?…people will look back at our beeper/leafblower era as a passing madness. “Noise pollution,” this phrase really should have more traction. But thus far the media haven’t focused on it.

    And we haven’t even gotten into the blare of “ambient” music in cafes and airports. Or the blasting TVs in doctors’ waiting rooms. Silence is golden.

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