Ban the Back-Up Beeper!

Back-Up Beeper LogoA city is no place for piece and quiet. There are always everywhere. This is especially true in the daytime. Whenever I have a few days off from work, I’ve found that the noises around my apartment make it damn near impossible to sleep in on weekdays. There are always lawnmowers and leafblowers and nearby trains, but of all the noises, the worst is the back-up beeper.

Noise Pollution

The basic idea behind the back-up beeper is a good one, but as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The problem isn’t the idea; it’s the implementation. These alarms were designed half a century ago with a basic idea: making as loud and obnoxious of a noise as possible. These machines were initially designed for major work sites where workers were wearing helmets. Because of this, back-up beepers were designed to emit a piercing whistle at upwards of 100 decibels. This made sense and probably saved lives.

After proving successful on the job site, the back up beeper proliferated elsewhere. In the name of safety, such devices ended up on small backhoes, garbage trucks and delivery vans. All of them had beepers loud enough for a billion-dollar construction site, regardless of their actual use. As anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of living next to a dumpster can tell you, the back-up beeper is far worse than the sound of a ton of garbage being sloshed around. Likewise, when my roof was being reshingled on my Thanksgiving Break, it wasn’t the hammering that bugged me as much as the forklifts idling in reverse.

Background Noise

Of course, this ignores the entire purpose of the back-up beeper. It’s there to protect construction workers. Their health and safety is worth more than my peace and quiet. This I do not dispute. But when it comes to warning workers, the back-up beeper fails. Because it’s so loud, it’s hard to locate, and because its so common, it’s easy to tune out. To someone working with heavy equipment all day, it’s just so much background noise. Perhaps it worked when it was first introduced, but nowadays the back-up beeper is an ineffective warning system.

Smart Noise

So if the current generation of back-up beepers is ineffective, what is the solution? First off, volume. Instead of beeping as loud as possible, our work trucks should be able to measure the ambient noise and adjust the volume accordingly. That would go a way to tampering the noise on small job sites. It would also help to make the speakers more directional. This would help workers tune out the sound when it wasn’t relevant, since the noise would be aimed only at people in the reversing vehicle’s path.

Both of these changes could be implemented cheaply and easily with modern technology. There are more expensive technologies we could use though, such as sensors that detect the infrared signature of the human form and beep only when someone is in range. Not that we need military-grade technology on the job site. As I said, a volume control system combined with directional speakers would be a huge improvement.

There are certainly better ways to handle safety than beeping as loud as humanly possible. Let’s think smarter, not louder.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at http://steve-lovelace.com.

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31 Responses

  1. Elore says:

    Living around “amenities” is a killer, shoppers drug mart cleans at night from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m with
    beepers going constantly, it echoes through the complex and then the other stores have
    trucks delivering with backing up and beepers go, it is never ending and very annoying driving one
    to be anxious and angry. Beepers should be banned.

  2. Christy says:

    Hi Steve,
    I ran across your article on “Ban the Back up Beeper”! AWESOME!

    I COMPLETELY agree with you! Amen!
    I have been researching this VERY subject!
    I am sure you have heard of “Brigade White Sound Back Up Alarm”…well if you haven’t definitely Google it! We live in So California and live near a grocery store…ugh!

    I remember several years ago when people here in California wanted to “Ban Smoking” in restaurants…well the rest is HISTORY…thank goodness! Well that is my thinking…we could start something….encourage our prospective states….most important OSHA to adopt this “new technology” of white noise back up sensors instead the ANNOYING “back up beeping”!!

    It is worth a try!
    Take care!
    Christy

    • DK Sweeney says:

      Christy.

      Happy Holidays & Happy New Year! 🙂

      Don’t know if you saw this:

      ‪http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/americans-say-create?source=c.url&r_by=4449156 …‬

      Or this:

      http://ideas.4brad.com/can-we-stop-loud-beep-backing I tried leaving a comment on this link, but, it wouldn’t let me. I personal messaged “Brad” on Fb, but he never returned my message.

      This must change. 🙂

  3. DK Sweeney says:

    Happy New Year Steve.

    Thanks for writing on my moveon.org petition.
    http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/americans-say-create?source=c.url&r_by=4449156

    Check out the comments on this link:

    http://ideas.4brad.com/can-we-stop-loud-beep-backing

    FYI:
    Matsusaburo Yamaguchi of Yamaguchi Electric Company, Japan, invented the back-up beeper which was first manufactured as model BA1 in 1963. “Back to the drafting table Mr. Yamaguchi.”

  4. DK Sweeney says:

    ‪http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/americans-say-create?source=c.url&r_by=4449156 …‬

  5. Lori says:

    I am about to commit murder. Might be myself. I live in Vt, been here 30 years, no neighbors, but have had it with numb heads across the road with their backup beepers. They are either plowing parking lots, loading food, or unloading new cars. Unbelievably, I live in a residential that has 3 miles of commercial space across the street from me. My house is up on a hill, and is surrounded by forested mountains that creates an amphitheater that is literally making me finally lose it. I can hear them even when I’m in the shower. I have 3 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, and a deck overlooking all this, but it’s destroyed by the noise.
    How can I stop these ‘good ole’ boys’ from keeping the back up beepers on? Fact: They were designed for USE IN TRAFFIC, to alert other drivers that a vehicle is backing up. There IS NO TRAFFIC IN THESE PARKING LOTS!!!!!! Help.

  6. Scott says:

    Back-up cameras should be mandatory replacement for the beepers. Now, in 2014, they are inexpensive third party solutions which can create a safer working environment and can eliminate a lot of noise. It’s also a great way to stimulate the economy – if that’s important?

  7. Les says:

    Thanks Steve. I see I am not alone in despising these obnoxious devices. I live in a hillside residential neighborhood, but I hear them almost every day from inside my house. I am not willing to accept that level of intrusion into my home. I have just started researching the subject, but I see others are well ahead of me. I completely agree that rear view cameras are the best, noiseless solution. Some of the questions I would like to research are: Was any research originally done on these devices to determine if they would be effective or did someone just think it would be a good idea? Have they been effective? Have back-up accidents decreased? Do they cause any adverse effects on workers such as headaches from constantly hearing them all day? If so, has this created a Pavlov response that triggers a headache whenever one hears a beeper? Have there been any applications for workman’s compensation related to beeper problems? Have the beepers shifted the responsibility from drivers making sure no one is behind them to those behind them getting out of way? What about deaf people? If anyone has any of these answers, I would like to hear them.

  8. Jim Houghton says:

    I found this site/blog googling to find out why these g.d. things exist when there are better alternatives. I don’t see any big groundswell of public support for legislation to ban or slowly eliminate them. If you ever find a petition site or a group actually dedicated to doing something about this unnecessary aggravation, please do let me know. Thanks.

    • Les says:

      Jim,

      A comment by D K Sweeney on this page has a link to a petition on moveon.com that you can sign. You are right that there is not yet a public outcry on this issue, but let’s do what we can do to spread the message. I know there are many folks out there who find those beepers extremely annoying.

  9. Jim Houghton says:

    BTW — the reason industry will fight the backup camera is that it puts legal responsibility on the driver to see what’s behind him, whereas the beeper puts legal responsibility on people on the ground to hear and move out of the way. Never going to make that one fly. What we need is scientifically-proven improvement in the beepers in terms of their being noticed locally and not heard five miles away.

  10. Barbara Nysted says:

    How about a class action suit against OSHA!…I sincerely doubt if our leaders even have read the regulation…there seems to be some loop holes to explore and surely are ambiguities in the regulation…our society has evolved since the time of the advent of backup alarms…noise pollution studies which indicate noise levels such as the beep of these alarms can be detrimental to health…both mental and physical…let’s get organized…

  11. naomi reid says:

    I am happy to find the conversation on this! I used to live in Vermont ( as Lori above) and also have lived in Brooklyn…I now live in a suburb of SF. And in each of these places, the beeping trucks have been a huge issue. It infuriates me to no end. Especially when I have read that the technology exists to have a noise that is only heard within a few feet of the vehicle. I am amazed that not more people are bothered by this and that there are not more petitions circulating. It’s a huge issue. Please let me know if there are any other petitions other than the moveon one. Thanks!

  12. adam says:

    Back up alarms are a noise violation in my county but the police wont enforce it. Spotters are an alternative, so these back up alarms are not federally required.

  13. Lynn says:

    I agree.I signed that peition.I’m so glad I’m not alone.
    When I tell people this problem, they minimize it,They tell me that it’s for the safety of people and they make out like I’m some murderer, just because I wish there was another way.
    They scold me and then I feel really alone and guilty for feeling that way.
    But so many good points people have wrote that think outside the box for once!
    Someone must be making money on those beepers and I wonder if Osha wants to protect their company buddies from change.
    I have Aspergers Syndrome a form of Autism and mine makes me sensitive to noise.
    Noise torments me and it hurts God it hurts! Make it stop!
    I can’t go back to sleep with that back up beeper across the river and I’m 6 stories up from it.
    I’ve suggested the alternative to construction crews and one guy was interested but they’re stuck with what machines theyre stuck with I guess.
    I spoke up for myself about construction pain and trie to offer ideas.
    One group listeneed the other didn’t.
    But I tried
    .I pray for Gods protection and wear earphones and earplugs.
    I’m at a loss what to do now that I signed the peition.
    Probaly I’ll get away as soon as possible. Thanks for your posts about this.
    It was helpful not to feel alone.

    • Lynn says:

      Dang it my spelling isn’t that good.I hate when that happens..
      I repeated myself on not feeling alone.I don’t know how to fix this mistake
      .I hope whoever owns this webpage can fix these mistakes.

  14. Shawn says:

    I live in Hilltown Township, Pennsylvania and have a Quarry across the street. They also operate an all night service shop for Haines and Kibblehouse at the same location that continually backs up Triaxle trucks all hours of the morning (in addition to the monotonous daytime constant back up activity of the Quarry). It is enough to drive you to committing an act of violence to stop them. They have the loudest of the “old style” single tone beeper alarms on most of their vehicles that beep at 130+ dB no matter how quiet or loud the surrounding environment. Their representative’s only response is that safety is a priority… Their safety is in question when at any time, they may all be shot by someone who has had enough of the noise that can be heard clearly a mile away…
    As mentioned in someone’s post above, OSHA does not require back up alarms (contrary to anybody that works at a construction site or Quarry is told by their management). The alternative listed by OSHA is a flag person with no alarm needed. Also, the requirement of the need for a back up alarm (in the first place) when there is a blind spot, is satisfied with a back up camera (also mentioned in an above post), as there is no longer a blind spot. I agree that the camera will never work as the litigation involved would put the blame on the truck driver if they run someone over, not the person behind the vehicle that couldn’t get out of the way of the vehicle that doesn’t need to worry about being sued if they run you over (if they have a back up alarm that is working).
    There are other options…. First, smart alarms have been in use the past 20 years, and a good quality one would continually monitor the background noise and only sound off at 5 to 10 dB above that background noise, instead of blaring at 130 dB at all times. Also, mentioned is the white noise alarm from Brigade that is also a smart type alarm plus it sends multiple frequency bands of tone that blends into the background noise beyond the danger zone (instead of being heard miles away).
    My biggest issue is that all my neighbors don’t seem as bothered and don’t want to raise a fuss about it. I guess some people are more bothered by the alarms than others… My whole family is severely bothered by the loud back up alarms. Also, I did not know this until lots of investigation and most people do not realize this either… 60 dB is not 20% louder than 50 dB… It is twice as loud. 70 dB is twice as loud as 60 dB, therefore 70 dB is four times as loud as 50 dB. Every 10 dB is a doubling of noise, not just a gradual increase in noise! When people shrug off dB levels, they don’t realize this!

    • AllanAB says:

      My brother and I are caretaking a business. The other business, over from us, uses 2 large industrial forklifts to pick up shipping containers. Over the last few weeks, this business has gone from using their horns to indicate they are reversing. However, over the last few weeks these forklifts have been using reversing beepers and also working 24/7 some days. This has got so annoying for us that we will have to move.We have had enough! The other businesses don’t use the reversing beeps, only this large business over from us. We are in Australia.A

  15. Allan says:

    We are also aware that this is an industrial law in Australia. We are hoping that our neighbours will be getting a petition organised, so that we can all get together to ban these beeps, because they don’t use them either and also because these beeps are annoying to people around them.

  16. John says:

    I hate this intrusive noise. I think the beeper problem is a symptom of our legal system. Lawsuits have become so predatory that businesses do everything possible to avoid liability. That is the real driving force behind these beepers. It’s why when you go to Home Depot, or other big box store, you are subjected to the incessant beeper noise on their forklifts. Tort reform would help eliminate this problem.

  17. John Nolan says:

    I am sitting here in my apartment in Toronto, and the sound of the backup beepers, which woke me up on my only day off, is migraine inducing. The sound of the beep is like a pulsing in my brain, it is so focused on that menacing noise. This has got to stop. I would sign your petition if Canadians were allowed to do so, There was one particularly loud beeper coming from an idiot in a Honda van. Some private citizens feel the need to wake up the entire neighborhood while they are backing their vehicle out of the driveway!! Seems they don’t know how to turn their head around or look in their rear view mirror! I have researched this issue, and supporters argue about the “safety of children.” Agreed. So let’s find a more peaceful and effective ways to accomplish the same task. Enough is enough!!!

  18. Thanks, Steve. Great piece. I have a Facebook page about those bloody things, and will put a link to your story there.
    https://www.facebook.com/Backup-Beeper-Menace-456013737749733/notifications/

  19. THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS.

    These “Reversing Alarms” are THE ONE THING which has made me lose almost COMPLETE belief in society and mankind as a whole.

    It is absolutely unexplainable to me how a law that arguably has NO measurable benefit, but on the other hand makes MILLIONS OF SQUARE KILOMETERS OF LAND UNINHABITABLE, can stand for years or decades without anyone taking it down or citizens violently protesting to demand its removal.

    Literally, this idiotic alarm must be HUNDREDS OF TIMES LOUDER than the actual ENGINE NOISE which is ALREADY PRETTY LOUD!

    For example, I live several MILES from a quarry here and while I obviously don’t hear the trucks etc. AT ALL, what I CONSTANTLY HEAR is these RIDICULOUS ALARMS. They are even MORE ridiculous in such a situation because those vehicles are reversing CONSTANTLY, EVERY WORKER ON THE PREMISES KNOWS that they are reversing constantly, and that they are in a DANGER ZONE.

    By CONSTANTLY SOUNDING ALARMS (which get eliminated by the brain for that very reason after a short period of time, while still destroying your eardrums), the ONLY THING that is achieved is making an area of several SQUARE MILES UNINHABITABLE!

    Why don’t business owners just CUT THE DAMN WIRES!?

  20. samantha says:

    thank you steve and all commenters here.i cannot stand these infernal back up beeps.they a re driving me nuts is bad for our health would be happy to bomb them . use mirrors and find a way to have the driver not be liable. this is so ridiculous that people cant be observant enough to see a truck backing up. we are not in danger of being run over by their g d trucks when we are blocks away and in our homes yet they destroy our sleep and our health and think its fine.

    i hope is right that we will win and ban them like smoking has been banned thank god . i signed the petiton what else should w e all do? ive joined noise free america and quiet communities . lets all work on this !

  21. Psychodelia says:

    The most stupid, loathsome devices ever known to mankind. They are a straight out instrument of torture to those of us (and there seem to be quite a few) who are disturbed by these offences to our right to peace and quiet on our own properties. Then you go to the hardware store or bottle shop and the bloody forklifts are going,and all you want to do is buy what you need and get out as fast as possible, instead of browsing and maybe spending more.
    Once I was at a beautiful harbour with some friends and we had taken a picnic – and across the bay, one of the mongrel hateful things was going round and round an EMPTY AND FENCED OFF CONSTRUCTION SITE. If anyone was so completely dense as to somehow scale the industrial fence and enter a pile of rubble and somehow manage to get run over by the only piece of machinery on it, then I say well done natural selection. Completely ruined the picnic and instead of being happy and joyful in the great outdoors, I was angry and resentful.
    One of the worst aspects for me is the feeling of utter helplessness and impotence in the face of implacable stupidity and selfishness.

  22. Mike says:

    The beeping has been driving me crazy for 30 years.
    Here’s a simple solution: put the beeper inside the cab with an optical back up warning system like many cars have. The driver is the one operating the hazardous backing up vehicle so let them liaten to it in the cab, not those of us within a 1 mile radius.

  23. samantha says:

    ottawa is listening! i d rather have a total ban on any noise and use cameras or some other silent system but this is so much better than those despicable beeps . look at the comnents though , some viciously vitriolic people out there .would be so nice to have the back up beeps out side their homes non stop and see how much they like them then .

    it also seems like the more complaints thye receive the more chance of getting rid of them in your neighborhood ! im glad someone is listening to us .

    http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/backup-beep-beep-beep-from-city-snow-vehicles-could-be-silenced-for-good

    http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/backup-beep-beep-beep-from-city-snow-vehicles-could-be-silenced-for-good

  24. Kay S. Bull says:

    I have a facebook page titled “Beeper My Arae. I truly believe that the United States government along with OSHA and police Inc. are using these sound tasers to insight violence.among the population of the country in order to lend ever more credence to its police force. I know because before I moved away I could have easily walked up the hill to a salvage yard in the town I lived in and shot everyone there dead. There too are loud motors of heavy machinery, trains, large amounts of steel being dropped and crushed all of which don’t hold a candle to the sound tasers we so inaccurately call beepers. These things are our government’s assault on its own people.for the purpose of creating violence. Nothing that I know of has ever proven to be more ineffective at accomplishing what it was designed to do than the sound taser ( backup beeper) It also gives the gov a clear look at just how apathetic the American people really are.

  1. February 8, 2017

    […] is like sound; too much of it is just noise. The information in the Ticker is different from the information on Twitter, Google+ or the […]

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