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New law tightens grip on noisy joyriders

The law deems unnecessary driving as joyriding, while engine-revving and loud sound systems are considered nuisances.

Mopoilevia poikia ja tyttöjä
In future nuisance driving can bring a 100 euro fine. Photo for illustration only. Individuals pictured are not referenced in the article. Image: Merja Siirilä / Yle

Cars, motorcycles, mopeds and tractors are not primarily designed as entertainment devices, even though they can be and are used for recreation.

Finnish law, however, takes as a starting point that motor vehicles are intended for transportation, moving people and goods from one place to another, and that any other use is more or less unnecessary.

New road traffic legislation in Finland bans an "unnecessary and bothersome" use of motor vehicles.

What has changed is that up until now "unnecessary and bothersome" driving has been banned only in urban areas. As of the beginning of June, the ban will be extended to the whole of the country.

This means that more police will find themselves faced with the task of deciding when someone is driving needlessly, aimlessly, or otherwise being a nuisance on the road.

Chief Inspector Tuomo Katajisto, who is in charge of instruction in new traffic legislation at Finland's Police University College concedes that the wording of the law is not good, since it does not provide a clear definition of these offences.

"What's telling about this kind of driving is that it's not headed anywhere. It's more of a pastime, driving slowly and repeatedly along the same streets," says Katajisto.

According to Katajisto, police themselves define this kind of joyriding, or "cruising", by the number of times a vehicle passes a certain point during a set period. Usually three times is enough.

"The constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but the public's right not to be disturbed is also protected in law," Katajisto explains.

Noise referees

Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare THL recently said that hundreds of thousands of people in the country are affected by traffic noise on a daily basis.

While in some countries, police carry decibel meters to determine if vehicles are a noise nuisance, in Finland police make a subjective call on a case by case basis.

Following a complaint, police often find themselves acting as referees, but there are some common reasons for grievances.

"Often the vehicle's muffler has been modified to make the car sound more sporty. On the other hand, a car just cruising the same quiet street enough times might seem to many people to be bothersome noise," Tuomo Katajisto explains.

Story continues after the photo.

Poliisi irrottaa rekisterikilpeä moposta
A police officer impounding moped registry plates. On warm summer evenings, noisy motor vehicles are the reason for a large number of complaints. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

A loophole for electric vehicles?

Inspector Konsta Arvelin of the National Police Board points out that new traffic legislation is also intended to be part of the principles of environmental protection enshrined in the constitution. Police are required to take engine emissions and noise pollution into account when determining what kind of motor vehicle use is and is not necessary.

In this context, the question has been raised if the same anti-joyriding regulations can be applied to vehicles running on quiet electric motors driving along without in-car sound systems booming.

Arvelin says he believes that drivers cruising in hybrid or electric vehicles could rightfully argue that they are not causing noise or excessive pollution.

In cases of minor disturbance, police can continue to hand out warnings, as has been the case up until now, but as of June they are also empowered to issue 100 euro fines anywhere in the country.

And it doesn't have to be during a joyride. For example, revving up while waiting for a stop light to change while on your way to work could get you a ticket.

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