Indicator: Population exposure to traffic noise

A graph shows the number of people exposed to traffic noise above 65 decibels throughout the day in 2017 – and those exposed to over 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. It differentiates between road, aircraft and rail traffic noise.Click to enlarge
Population exposure to traffic noise around major roads, major railways and major airports ...
Source: German Environment Agency Figure as PDF

Table of Contents


At a glance

  • In 2017, the health of about 4.7 million people was affected by night-time noise. Throughout the day, noise affected the health of at least 3.3 million people.
  • The main source of noise is road traffic. Rail traffic is particularly relevant at night. Overall, aircraft noise plays only a minor role.
  • Noise that exceeds exposure limits can lead to health problems.

Environmental importance

Traffic noise affects the lives of a large number of people in Germany. There are a number of ways in which noise caused by road and rail traffic or air traffic can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing. Noise affects quality of life, including sleep quality. It can alter sleep patterns. Those people affected wake up more often and produce more stress hormones. The risk factors for cardiovascular disease increase. The impacts are described in detail in a scientific article published by the German Environment Agency (UMID 1/2016, in German only).

In order to avoid negative impacts on health, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that night-time noise exposure should not exceed a time-average level of 40 decibels (dB(A)) (WHO 2009). There is evidence that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases when the average night-time noise rises to more than 55 dB(A), or if the average noise level during the day is more than 65 dB(A). These two values were therefore used as threshold values for the indicator.


Assessing the development

In 2017, 4.7 million (million) people around major traffic routes, major airports and agglomerations were affected by heavy traffic noise above 55 decibels (dB(A)) at night. Throughout the day, around 3.3 million people were exposed to traffic noise that exceeded 65 dB(A). This means that nearly 6 % of the German population was affected by night-time noise, and 4 % by daytime noise.

The different types of transport produce different noise problems. The main noise source is road traffic. Rail traffic tends to be a problem at night. Overall, only few people are affected by aircraft noise.

In 2009, the Federal Government passed a second national traffic noise protection package (‘Nationales Verkehrslärmschutzpaket II’, BMVBS 2009, in German only), which states that noise from road traffic and inland waterway transport is to be reduced by 30 %, air traffic noise by 20 % and rail traffic noise by as much as 50 % below 2008 levels by 2020. Some measures have already been taken (BMVI n. d., in German only). More efforts are necessary to achieve a significant reduction in noise pollution.



The basis for calculating the indicator is noise mapping. Noise mapping has been enshrined in the Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchG ) since June 2005 based on the standards of the European Environmental Noise Directive. Noise maps have to be drawn up for agglomerations, major roads, major railways and major airports. Detailed calculation instructions can be found in two method documents published by the Federal Government (BMU , BMVBS 2006 and 2007, in German only). The noise level is expressed as an A-weighted sound pressure level. The A-rating is used to recreate the frequency-dependent hearing sensitivity of people.

More detailed information: 'Gesundheitsrisiken durch Umgebungslärm' (in German only).