Spring 2002, p.11

Ban Car Alarms Now!

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It is time for the car alarm to be tossed onto the trash heap of history as one of the most obnoxious and useless things ever devised. Indeed, it should never have been legal in the first place. New Yorkers have suffered long enough from endless alarms screaming out at jet engine levels of 120 decibels or more. Indeed, ruminating on car alarms is as New York as complaining about high rents.

The explosion of car alarms began in the late 1980s when the NY State legislature passed an appalling law requiring insurance companies to offer a 10% discount to motorists equipped with car alarms. The idiotic law, greased through the legislature by alarm industry money, essentially paid motorists to equip their cars with alarms.

But, with a new, more open-minded mayor and City Council and the development of new, computer chip controlled "immobilizers" and noiseless, pager-type alarms, the time is right to permanently ban audible car alarms in New York City.

At a late February meeting, T.A. urged City Council Transportation Chair John Liu to sponsor legislation banning the alarms. Backing our call to action were hundreds of T.A. E-Bulletin readers who e-mailed Liu. Now T.A. is taking the campaign to the next level and asking you to send in the enclosed postcard to City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and to take the time to write and call your City Councilmember. Nothing less than a complete ban is meaningful. Police statistics suggest that laws to limit the time alarms can blare or their volume are not enforced-only 300 summonses a year are issued for car alarm violations.

The big irony is that, despite the massive public irritation, stress, sleep loss and associated health problems imposed by car alarms, the devices do not work. A survey by the Ohio-based Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. found that fewer than one percent of respondents call the police upon hearing a car alarm. Other experts agree.

"Noise alarms are basically designed, so far as we can tell, to annoy your neighbors," judges Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, the insurance-industry think tank that studies auto-insurance losses. "We've looked at the thefts of insured vehicles with and without car alarms and found that they don't make a difference." Fordham professor Harold Takooshian, co-author of a forthcoming study on car alarms, has not found a shred of evidence that they deter theft. "If these alarms were medicines, the makers would find themselves prosecuted for fraud," he says. "I don't see how anyone can speak in their favor." In contrast, says the Highway Loss Data Institute, silent, manufacturer-installed "immobilizers" have shrunk insurance losses for vehicles rigged with them by 50 percent.

(Excerpted from "Let's Ban Car Alarms" Brian C. Anderson in the Winter 2001/2002 City Journal)

"But the alarms' most corrosive effect is on the essential urban virtue of civility. Cities-where millions of people from dramatically different backgrounds live densely packed together-require countless acts of mutual adjustment and reciprocal decency in order to flourish. Car alarms send a message directly counter to such civility. "People who place such alarms in their vehicles show the ultimate in selfishness: a willingness to invade the space of their fellow citizens with a raucous noise that says, 'I care about my car and couldn't care less about your ears,' argues anti-noise activist Dave Pickell."

(As quoted in Winter 2001/2002 City Journal)

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