When ice cream vans can – and can't – play music

Girl reaching for ice cream from ice cream van. (Getty Images)
Do you know the rules surrounding ice cream van music? (Getty Images)

Nothing says summer more than the tinkling of a tune revealing an ice cream van is nearby.

The sound seems to instantly whip (pun intended) children and adults alike into an absolute frenzy at the thought of a cooling sugar hit.

But did you realise there are some rules and regulations surrounding the all-too-familiar music?

When and for how long can ice cream vans play music?

Ice cream vans aren't as carefree as they might appear, bound to a few niche legal restrictions.

Last year, the topic even came up for discussion on Radio 2 when a listener posed a question to QI Elves (the team of writers and researchers behind BBC Two's hit panel show QI) about the tunes they play and what's behind them.

While the music choice is at the discretion of the ice cream vendors, there are official government guidelines about how much of it they are allowed to play.

"You're allowed to chime for 12 seconds every two minutes while you're driving," explained QI elf Lauren Gilbert at the time.

"But you can't play the chimes before noon, after 7pm or within 50 metres of a hospital, a school during school hours or church on Sundays."

Presenter Zoe Ball responded, shocked at the restrictiveness, "These are very strict rules. Can you imagine the meeting that was held when these rules were discussed? And was there a representative from the industry there? I'm imagining there must have been."

Read more: Why do knickers have a bow on the front?

The sound of summer? (Getty Images)
The sound of summer? (Getty Images)

Despite sounding somewhat over the top, the rules have actually been relaxed thanks in part to the Ice Cream Alliance, who successfully campaigned for an update on regulations in 2013 which previously hadn't been altered since 1982.

Ice cream van drivers used to only be allowed to sound their chimes for as little as four seconds, but the change in rules extended this.

The current rules, however, still state ice cream chimes should be played once only on the approach to each stopping place (or ‘selling point’), only once when the van is stationary, and never at intervals of less than two minutes.

The chimes should not be played more often than once every two hours in a particular length of street.

Where and how loudly can ice cream vans play music?

Depending on the location, ice cream vans might not be able to play music at all.

"The chimes should not be played in areas where people may be especially sensitive to their sound," the government guidance states.

"In particular they should not be played: a. within 50 metres of any hospital or similar institution; b. within 50 metres of a school during school hours; c. within 50 metres of a place of worship on a Sunday or other recognised day of worship."

As well as it being an offence for ice cream vans to sound their chimes before 12 noon or after 7pm, it is also an offence for vendors to play their music at any time in a way that gives reasonable cause for annoyance.

Ice cream vans parked up in a line outside flats in Peckham on 3rd December 2022 in London, United Kingdom. Peckham is a district in southeast London, within the London Borough of Southwark. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Ice cream van drivers might be banned from particular streets if they receive complaints and break the rules. (Getty Images)

Interestingly, some ice cream vendors do on occasion fall foul of the law, including on sound levels.

In 2021, an ice cream man was banned from a street because a neighbour complained the tune it played was distressing.

The resident said at the time the van "plays his chimes for more than the statutory 12 seconds but plays them louder than the allowed 80 decibels".

The local authority probed whether the van broke the legal limits on how long the chimes are allowed to be sounded for, eventually bowing to pressure from the resident to ban the van from entering the street.

Watch: Amusing footage shows peacock chasing after ice cream van