Memo: Why Ban Car Alarms Audible car alarms destroy New York's quality of life without protecting cars.
- New Yorkers hate car alarms. In 2001, 83% of the 97,000 calls
to the City's Quality of Life Hotline were noise complaints, with car
alarm calls consistently near the top of the list (according to
Vincent La Padula, Senior Advisor to the Mayor). The Census Bureau
reported the same year that more New Yorkers are bothered by traffic
noise (including car alarms) than by any other aspect of city life,
including crime or the condition of local schools.
- Audible car alarms do not work. The only unbiased study ever
done on the subject - one conducted by the insurance industry - shows
that car alarms do nothing to stop car theft. The NYPD has no evidence
that alarms are effective, but says they are an "annoying and
sometimes unbearable disturbance for residents in their homes."
They "frequently go off for no apparent reason." And as one
of the "signs that no one cares," they "invite both
further disorder and serious crime."
- Silent anti-theft devices are inexpensive and effective.
Passive immobilizers cost no more than car alarms (see chart), and cut
theft rates in half, according to the insurance industry. Pager
devices alert car owners to a potential break-in without annoying an
Security device, fully installed
car alarm (with siren)
car alarm (with pager)
to replace existing siren
current prices for audible and silent car security devices in New York
The Solution: Ban the use, sale, and installation of audible car
alarms in New York City.
- A ban is legal. New York City already prohibits the use of
noisy aftermarket motorcycle tailpipes (NY Admin. Code Sec. 24-227)
and the use of audible status indicators on cars. Summons under these
laws are sustained. We can ban car alarm use. Likewise, no legal
issues prevent a ban on the sale and installation of alarms - see our memorandum
on Commerce Clause issues for details [ Commerce
Clause Memo (pdf format) | Legal
authority of city to ban car alarms (html format) ].
- A ban will work. Police enforcement of car alarm laws will
become much simpler and more practical. Just as important, a clear ban
will provide a "codified morality" that will be enforced
through social pressures. Laws requiring "pooper-scoopers,"
prohibiting cell phone use while driving, and limiting idling to three
minutes are rarely enforced directly, but they are still effective.
- New Yorkers want a car alarm ban. The two car alarm bills
before City Council have twenty-one co-sponsors from across New York
City, including high car-ownership areas of Brooklyn and Queens.
Unlike the smoking ban, these bills have support across the political
and demographic spectra. Virtually all of the opposition to a car
alarm ban comes from out-of-town consumer electronics industry
- Car owners will buy silent devices once audible alarms are
banned, benefiting car owners and local businesses. The need for
car security won't go away when alarms do. Recent history suggests
that car owners will flock to installers for silent anti-theft
products once audible alarms are banned. When the New York State
Legislature banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving,
sales of hands-free headsets soared. Plantronics, which claims nearly
half the worldwide headset market, reports that New York sales
"more than doubled" in the months following passage of the
New York law.**
The same will happen when car alarms are banned, with installers reaping
the benefits. Meanwhile, car owners will gain better security and bigger
- Installers will not need to retool, since Int. 448 bans only the
audible part of existing alarm systems. A car alarm consists of an
array of sensors, a radio receiver, a wireless key fob, an auxiliary
battery, a computer control unit, and a siren (see illustration). Only
the siren would be banned. Instead of triggering a loud, ineffective
noise, this same system can activate a silent pager or immobilizer.
Installers already have all the equipment and expertise they need to
install silent devices - indeed, 70% already sell silent pagers (see
above for prices).
the siren (alarm speaker) will be disconnected when the ban goes into
effect. A qualified installer can shut off the siren and install a
replacement pager in under one hour. There are several add-on pagers
available from most installation shops. Source: Tom Harris, "How Car
Alarms Work", http://www.howstuffworks.com/car-alarm.htm
- Other proposals will not work. The car alarm manufacturers
are unable to police themselves. They promised the Council in 1997
that a voluntary program to license installers would eliminate the
noise; it hasn't. The DEP says that we can wait for the noise code
revisions to solve this problem; judging from the meetings we have
attended, they won't. Banning sale and installation without banning
use will take business away from local dealers and allow alarms to
continue blaring in our neighborhoods.
Why Ban Car Alarms" is also available in PDF
About New York’s alarm installation business:
The US Census Bureau classifies car alarm installers under “Automotive
Parts and Accessories Stores” (NAICS # 441310). This category includes
auto stereo stores, speed shops, tire stores, and auto accessories stores,
as well as auto security installers. Within the five boroughs, the Census
Bureau counts 501 automotive parts and accessories retailers, employing
2,931 people. (The average yearly salary is $23,952.)
Only 40% of these shops, at the most, sell or install car alarms
(according to Drew Robertson at the Center for Automotive Security
Innovation). Of these installers, each one sells an array of car parts and
accessories, with security systems making up about 20% of their sales.
Using these numbers, we conclude that car security installations in New
York account for approximately 235 jobs.
New York's Alarm Installation Business" is also available in PDF
“Hands-Free and Growing: As states examine legislation to limit driving
and talking, hands-free device makers are seeing their sales skyrocket,”
by Sue Marek, Wireless Week, Dec. 10, 2001.