Screeching tires. Cars peeling out. Auto alarms. Horns blasting. These are more than mere realities of living in a big, congested city like Los Angeles. A new study, reported in the L.A. Times, finds traffic noises have a tangible effect on health and actually increases the risk of heart attack and death, especially to those sensitive to such sounds.
A London university looked at long-term exposure to urban traffic noise—as opposed to occasional—and its effect on health. Hearing a steady stream of daytime noise at 60 decibels will increase chance of death and heart attack by about 4%, researchers found; the toll on the elderly was worse. A different study also found that urban noise pollution increases a person’s chance for obesity by anywhere from 25% to 50%. A third study linked such noise with increased chances of stroke, especially among older people.
The reasons for the dangers aren’t surprising; aggressive noise pollution spikes stress and decreases the chances for good sleep. Quick fixes like closing your car and home windows and listening to ambient music (maybe shut off the news or talk radio while driving) definitely helps. Encouragingly, the Times quotes an acoustics professional as saying some people can process the stress of the noise better, while some may hear the sounds but not really allow it to penetrate their consciousness.
Of course, the city could help. New York warns drivers about blasting horns via street signs (though that really hasn’t helped). Back here, a few well-placed traffic cops at some of the L.A.’s noisiest intersections—Wilshire and Westwood and La Brea and Santa Monica Blvd., come to mind—would definitely discourage the bad behavior that often leads to a loud, and stressful, environment.