Exposure to and annoyance by traffic noise
Road traffic is, by far, the major source of traffic noise in Europe both inside and outside agglomerations. It should be also highlighted that significant numbers of people remain exposed to high levels of noise from rail and aircraft.
In the largest European cities, over 250 thousand inhabitants, noise from road transport is a major concern, as in 2007 almost 67 million people were exposed to long-term average road traffic noise levels exceeding 55dB Lden (weighted average day, evening, night). At night time, for the same reported cities, more than 45 million people were exposed to road noise levels higher than 50dB. Concerning noise from major roads outside agglomerations, 33 million were affected during daytime and 23 million at night periods.
When available data allows for comparison between 2007 and 2012, different patterns have been observed: there has been a general increase of people exposed to all noise bands from airports, a slight increase of people exposed to noise from roads (only people exposed to lower noise bands), and a slight decrease of people exposed to noise from railways. Nevertheless, for 2012 reference year, information on strategic noise maps is missing for 12 out of 33 EEA member countries.
How many people are exposed to traffic noise in Europe?
Road traffic noise (inside and outside urban areas) is still the most prevalent noise source. Around 35 million people are exposed to levels above 55 dB Lnight due to road traffic noise outside agglomerations in 2007. Road traffic noise is affecting more people inside agglomerations than outside agglomerations. This fact reflects the concentration of population in urban areas and, also, the levels of traffic in most of the European agglomerations.
Railways noise is the second contributor to environmental noise. About 8 million people inside agglomerations and more than 6 million people outside agglomerations have been exposed to levels above 55 dB Lden (2007). These figures are reduced to 8 and 5 million people respectively, when considering only the night period (exposed to more than 50 dB Lnight). The reduction between the 24-hours period and the night period is very low, if compared with the reduction occurring between Lden and Lnight in the case of major roads.
Differences between road traffic noise and railways noise could be explained by multiple factors, starting with the length of the road transport network compared with the railways transport network, the inclusion or not of urban trams and light railways in the noise mapping calculation inside urban agglomerations, or the fact that the majority of major railway network in urban areas are located underground, among others.
Aircraft noise is very limited in space, consequently the number of people exposed is lower compared to other noise sources. However, the impact may be very high given the values of dB that could be reached by this noise source. As in the rest of noise sources, people exposed to Lden above 55 dB inside agglomerations (2,5 millions) is higher than people exposed to aircraft noise outside agglomerations (1,5 millions).
The distribution of population through the different noise bands shows a similar pattern independently of the noise source: people exposed to the lowest noise band are always more than 50% of the total people exposed. People exposed to the highest levels are always below 5%.
When available data allows for comparison between 2007 and 2012 different patterns have been observed: there has been a general increase of people exposed to all noise bands from airports, a slight increase of people exposed to noise from roads (only people exposed to lower noise bands), and a slight decrease of people exposed to noise from railways. Nevertheless, for 2012 reference year, information on strategic noise maps is missing for 12 out of 33 EEA member countries.
Indicator specification and metadata
Number of people exposed to noise for 2007 and 2012, Lden and Lnight periods. Noise Sources included are Airports, Railways and Roads within agglomerations (bigger than 250 thousand inhabitants and bigger than 100 thousand inhabitants respectively) and Major Airports, Major Railways and Major Roads, outside agglomerations.
Number of people exposed.
Policy context and targets
At the time of publication of the Green Paper on Future Noise Policy (COM (96) 540), it was estimated that about 80 million people (20% of the European Union's population), suffered from unacceptable noise levels (in so-called “black areas”, where 65dB were exceeded). Such figure was considered by scientists and health experts as unacceptable. Additionally, 170 million lived in “grey areas”, where noise levels ranged from 55 to 65 dB.
The Environmental Noise Directive (END) 2002/49/EC entered into force in 2002 in order to provide a response to this problem, becoming one of the main instruments to identify noise pollution levels and to trigger the necessary action both at Member State and at EU level.
No later than 31 December 2007, Member States were obliged to report strategic noise maps to the European Commission showing the situation in the preceding calendar year for all agglomerations with more than 250 000 inhabitants and for all major roads which have more than six million vehicle passages a year, major railways which have more than 60 000 train passages per year and major airports with more than 50 000 movements per year within their territories.
Data required to be supplied after having produced the noise contour maps include the number of people exposed to environmental noise from one of the four particular noise sources inside agglomerations (road noise, rail noise, aircraft noise and industrial noise) and the number of people exposed to the main transport sources outside agglomerations. This information is divided in several classes of noise exposure. For Lden, the number of exposed citizens should be supplied rounded to the nearest hundred and expressed in hundreds, in exposure classes of 5 dB from 55 dB Lden up to over 75 dB Lden. For Lnight, the data should cover noise exposure classes from 50 dB Lnight upward until 70 dB Lnight, again in 5 dB classes.
No later than 31 December 2012, and thereafter every five years, strategic noise maps showing the situation in the preceding calendar year should be made and delivered to the European Commission in due time. This time, member countries were requested to report a major number of sources, including all agglomerations with more than 100 000 inhabitants and all major roads with more than 3 million vehicle a year, all major railways with more than 30 000 train passages per year and major airports within their territories.
The Environmental Noise Directive does not provide any specific target. However, the aim is to reduce the number of people exposed to, and annoyed by, noise levels that endanger health and quality of life (EC 2002/49/EC). The WHO recommends night noise levels not higher than 40 dB Lnight in order to protect public health.
However, presented here are the values higher than 50 dB Lnight, which is the lower limit of assessment according to Directive 2002/49/EC. In other words, assessments have not yet been made to the WHO recommended level.
Related policy documents
No related policy documents have been specified
Methodology for indicator calculation
People exposed from different noise sources is reported by EEA member states in each reporting period, first implementation round in 2007, and second implementation round in 2012. Data received include all environmental noise sources inside and outside agglomerations by Lden and Lnight periods. Data is aggregated at European level and the total is displayed by source for each dB range: 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70-74 and >75 Lden, and 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69 and >70 Lnight.
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
Noise Observation and Information Service for Europe
provided by European Environment Agency (EEA)
Transport (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- TERM 005
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoAlfredo Sanchez Vicente
EEA Management Plan2014 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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