The Connecticut state legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee is mulling over a bill that would prevent theaters from showing any film or trailer that exceeds 85 decibels, about the same noise level as an alarm clock on your night table or the sound of traffic on the street.
By comparison, a blow dryer runs at about 100 decibels and a wailing child hits your ear at about 110 decibels, according to the American Tinnitus Association.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that sound is kept below 85 decibels within a working environment to minimize hearing loss. But that standard only applies to sustained noise levels.
Vans Stevenson, a senior vice president with the Motion Picture Association of America, said his organization is against regulating the sound levels of movies.
“We already have voluntary standards in place at the direction of the National Association of Theater Owners and groups involved in sound technology. Those standards were set for the comfort and safety of patrons and we think further legislation is unnecessary,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson also said that limiting the noise in movies is a First Amendment issue.
“The state would be saying how a movie can be presented and the same standards wouldn’t apply to rock concerts, sporting events or any other sound in the world. That would be discriminatory,” he said.
Stevenson said the voluntary guidelines that movies now follow keep the average sound level in a movie or preview below the 85-decibel threshold but admitted that an explosion or burst of gunfire can briefly exceed the limits.
Such exceptions are the problem, according to William Young, a Stamford resident who pushed for the measure. He said his own tests found that prolonged busts of noise during previews climb as high as 110 decibels.
“Who wants to sit there in pain?” Young said. “These companies shouldn’t subject people to harmful sounds.”
Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, was part of a delegation that introduced the bill to the legislature but said he thought a legal solution might not be the best fix.
“If there are other corrective measures without legislation and it takes care of the problem, that would be the better choice,” he said.
Stevenson of the Motion Picture Association of America said theater owners want their patrons to be happy and safe. And if there was a problem, consumers would be complaining.
If anything, owners hear more requests to turn up the sound, not down, Stevenson said.
What do you think? Are movies so loud that you leave the theater with your ears ringing? Or is booming sound part of the movie-going experience? Sound off, so to speak, in the comment section below.