Busy road in Sydney

New Study: Noise pollution & Sydney

New study reveals the Sydney roads whose traffic noise could be impacting your heart health

22 December 2023

Sydneysiders might be forgiven for thinking that living next to a motorway might cause the biggest noise annoyance.

But first-of-its-kind data from Australian company Ambient Maps has revealed it’s the roads with the most fluctuations in traffic noise that are the biggest cause for concern.

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, which has teamed up with Ambient Maps, says that, aside from being annoying, road noise can also be bad for our health. It says there needs to be far more awareness about the growing dangers of road noise.

Professor Jason Kovacic, Director and CEO of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, says: “There is increasing evidence that living close to a busy road has a big impact on our heart health, and it’s not just linked to the pollution belted out by cars on the road.

“Road noise can trigger our stress response, which can drive up blood pressure and that increases your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. It’s vital that Australians are more aware of the dangers and that we put this on the health agenda.”

The new study mapped every road in Sydney – firstly analysing average noise exposure from 7am to 11pm – then analysing which roads produce higher than average peaks over that time, to identify the 'annoying' roads.

The Australian Government has recommended an average noise limit of 60 dB(A) across the day and evening period. An average noise level of 60 dB(A) could be the hum from a distant major road that always has traffic. Alternatively, an average noise level of 60 dB(A) could also arise from a quieter road with occasional louder vehicles that create a peak in traffic noise. Research suggests the latter 60 dB(A) road would have a higher annoyance level due to these peaks, leading to a higher stress response when compared to a louder but more constant traffic noise level.

Often, it is clear that a road is busy, but the road’s noise impact over a day may not always be so noticeable. The noise map compared the average noise levels against the loudest, with a focus on single-lane roads that, on the first pass, may not appear to be overly annoying in the event of a 15-minute house inspection on a Saturday morning. The 50 roads identified are in suburbs across Sydney – including Allawah, North Curl Curl, and Rose Bay.

Key Findings

Ambient Maps data found that, where the average noise level is similar, the hum of living very close to a motorway with noise almost 24 hours a day produced less overall noise annoyance than someone living close to a moderately busy road with no barriers in place.

Noise engineer Ben Hinze, Director of Ambient Maps, says the results might surprise those living near a motorway. Mr Hinze says:

“Our study has shown that not every noise is the same, and it’s the level and frequency of noise that generate the biggest increase in our stress levels. if you visited some of these roads, you might think they weren't overly noisy or busy, and they might, at first glance, look ok. It's the roads which have the highest fluctuations that cause the most annoyance.”

Unsurprisingly, the study found quiet residential roads were the least annoying because of the limited number of movements.

Despite the higher average noise levels, motorways can be less annoying at a distance (exhaust brakes and motorcycles excluded) because there are so many movements that blend into one another.

Living on a moderately busy road, however, with no noise barrier to separate you and lots of regular movements that create higher average noise levels across the day, appears to be where that annoyance may be highest. Mr Hinze adds:

“It’s hard to avoid noise living in a busy city but if you looking to buy or rent a new place you might want to think a bit more about the noise around you, and in particular road noise.”

Professor Kovacic adds that whilst it might be difficult to escape noise in a busy city, there are steps people can take to reduce their noise exposure.

“Just closing a window or wearing noise-cancelling headphones during the busiest part of the day can help. You might also want to visit a new property at the busiest time of day and not just when the agent holds the open house to get a true sense of what you might be facing and stay there a while to experience it and see how you feel,” says Professor Kovacic.

How does noise impact our body and in turn, our heart health?

When we hear a loud or disruptive noise, the body’s  stress response is triggered, releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. 

These hormones help trigger our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, physiologically with changes such as:

When this stress response is consistently activated over time due to stimuli such as these constantly noisy roads, this increase in heart rate, blood pressure , and inflammation can negatively impact our health. Learn more about the impact of noise and light pollution on the heart.

About Ambient Maps

Ambient Maps has already produced national transport noise maps featuring road, rail, and aircraft, which are being used in conjunction with the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) to support research into the impact transport noise has on health and the relationship that transport noise has on property value.

In early 2024, road, rail, and aircraft noise exposure reports will also be available through Infotrack and Archistar for any property across Australia to support homebuyers, developers, and renters searching for a new home.

Ambient Maps is also turning the transport noise map into an annoyance map to complement the average noise levels, highlighting roads with the highest risk of annoyance, paired with houses with higher average exposure. Next year (2024) will also see the emergence of a road traffic air quality map across the nation.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years