Description of basic variablesThe intensity of roadway noise is governed by the following variables: traffic operations (speed, truck mix, age of vehicle fleet), roadway surface type, tire types, roadway geometrics, terrain, micrometeorology and the geometry of area structures.
Traffic operations noise is affected significantly by vehicle speeds, since sound energy roughly doubles for each increment of ten miles an hour in vehicle velocity; an exception to this rule occurs at very low speeds where braking and acceleration noise dominate over aerodynamic noise. Small reductions in vehicle noise occurred in the 1970s as states and provinces enforced unmuffled vehicle ordinances. The vehicle fleet noise has not changed very much over the last three decades; however, if the trend in hybrid vehicle use continues, substantial noise reduction will occur, especially in the regime of traffic flow below 35 miles per hour. As a pedestrian safety issue, hybrid vehicles are so quiet at low speeds that the customary warning noise may not alert the pedestrian to nearby danger, creating a potential hazard for visually impaired people, who rely on such noise to navigate in areas of heavy traffic. Trucks contribute a disproportionate amount of noise not only because of their large engines, but also the height of the diesel stack and the aerodynamic drag. Significant interior noise is usually present inside moving motor vehicles; in fact, passengers are generally not aware that these levels are high, because experience has led motorists to expect levels commonly exceeding 65 dBA.
Tire types had considerable design changes in the 1970s, and at this juncture are probably optimized for noise control, given the of safety needs for a significant grip by the tread.
Roadway geometrics and surrounding terrain are interrelated, since the propagation of sound is sensitive to the overall geometry and must consider diffraction (bending of sound waves around obstacles), reflection, ground wave attenuation, spreading loss and refraction. A simple discussion indicates that sound will be diminished when the path of sound is blocked by terrain, or will be enhanced if the roadway is elevated so as to broadcast; however, the complexities of variable interaction are so great, that there are many exceptions to this simple argument.
Micrometeorology is significant in that sound waves can be refracted by wind gradients or thermoclines, effectively dismissing the effect of some Noise barriers or terrain intervention.
Geometry of area structures is an important input, since the presence of buildings or walls can block sound under certain circumstances, but reflective properties can augment sound energy at other locations.