NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Silencing Car Alarms in New York City

August 26, 2003

New York may be the first city in the nation to ban car alarms. Noise complaints constitute 85 percent of the calls made to the New York Police Department's "Quality of Life Hotline." And lots of those calls, police say, concern car alarms, which shriek and whoop at noise levels up to 125 decibels -- as loud as a jet taking off.

The alarms frazzle New Yorkers' nerves and, when they go off late at night, rob them of sleep. Their cacophonous screeching also creates what criminologists call a "broken window" effect, encouraging lawlessness by sending the message that no one is in charge of maintaining public order, says Brian Anderson.

Car alarms would be hard to justify even if they did prevent auto theft, as their makers claim. But they don't, says Anderson:

  • Because of their 95 percent false-alarm rate, nobody hears a car alarm blaring and rushes to call the cops.
  • Audio alarms pose no obstacle to the professional car thieves responsible for most car thefts these days.
  • Making noise alarms even more pointless, new auto-security alternatives are both effective and silent, like the factory-installed immobilizers that disable a car's ignition system if someone tries to start the vehicle without using the right computer-encoded key.

In sum: Nothing would be lost and much gained if car alarms disappeared, says Anderson.

Bleary-eyed New Yorkers will thus be happy to hear that, thanks to the grassroots efforts of Transportation Alternatives and Silent Majority, the New York City Council is now considering outlawing the use of alarms within the city, with fines of up to $2,100 for frequent offenders. The bill would make New York the first car-alarm-free municipality in the nation.

Source: Brian Anderson (Manhattan Institute), "On Silencing Parked Cars," New York Sun, July 14, 2003.


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