Columbus, Ohio USA
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The Car Alarm Must Go
A pox on these loathsome gizmos!
By Joel Knepp
October 2014 Issue

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Life in the Short North has many charms: diverse residents and visitors, walkable streets, pleasant parks, interesting buildings, and a wide variety of great places to eat, drink, work, and shop. However, one feature of our neighborhood which we share with other urban environments is the abomination known as the car alarm. It’s 3 a.m. and you’re sleeping soundly. The weather is mild so your bedroom windows are open. There isn’t a soul on the street, much less a car thief. Nevertheless, for no apparent reason, a car alarm goes off. Twelve ultra-loud honks smash your blissful slumber, followed by a deceptive lull during which you hear your heart pounding, then twelve more blasts and so on, until either a chip tells the damned thing to stop, the car battery dies, or, and this is the least-likely scenario, the car owner gets out of bed and deals with it. Most of our streets are relatively narrow, with houses near the sidewalks. When these alarms kick in, the obnoxious noise they produce bounces off the buildings and zooms down the street with infernal vigor, waking up and angering everyone for at least a block. Short of low-flying helicopters and boom cars, I can’t think of anything more menacing, more of an assault on our urban quality of life, than these foul devices.

Those of us who remember when cars were way cruder than today’s luxurious marvels of electronic perfection, have experienced some disturbing event with cars in extremely cold weather. Sometimes electrical connections were made when they were not supposed to, resulting in the horn blowing or the radio turning on unprompted by human hands. Naturally, this used to happen at the coldest and quietest part of the night. These relatively rare events of yore foreshadowed the much more common contemporary menace of the car-alarm false alarm. Last winter in Columbus was quite nippy. Apparently a car down the street from our house underwent a case of the cold-connected circuit in its nasty alarm system. This happened multiple times on several nights. As far as I know, my wife is the only person who slept through these occasions, but she could sleep through a train wreck.

I am a mild-mannered, neighborly person who can get along with most anyone. I believe in live and let live. However, car alarms which disturb my sleep have a unique ability to start adrenalin pumping and bring out a deeply hostile reaction from a normally dormant corner of my lizard brain. I start thinking gleefully about IEDs, RPGs, and other instruments of destruction. Although these things would produce a lot of noise when they blow up the offending automobile, they would have the distinct advantage of doing so only once, unlike car alarms which can go off night after night, year after year, ruining sleep for many.

Fortunately, my violent thoughts soon turn to more peaceful but equally satisfying fantasies:

1) Prospective buyers of car alarms should be required to obtain a purchase permit by taking a class on the physical and psychological effects of exposure to repeated loud noises. They would also have to wear earphones for a week which would simulate the sound of a high-decibel car alarm at random hours, preferably in the middle of the night. Premature removal of these earphones would void the permit.

2) Presidents, owners, CEOs, and chief engineers of companies which manufacture car alarms should be required to obtain a manufacturing permit per the procedures outlined in item 1.

3) Anyone who makes it through item 1 and still has the temerity and lack of consideration for his fellow humans (never mind dogs, cats, birds, raccoons, and squirrels) to buy a car alarm should be required to post a large bond, say $50,000, so that for each false-alarm event (as recorded by multiple video cameras on the car installed at the owner’s expense) everybody within a block of the offending vehicle receives $100 in compensation. The alarm would also send a message directly to a police department computer which would generate a $500 noise-pollution ticket and referrals to the EPA as well as a certified empathy trainer.

But, you might well ask, wouldn’t these measures make purchasing a car alarm prohibitively troublesome and expensive? Well, yes, that might be a (not) regrettable side effect.

Do car alarms make life in our beloved Short North better? Do their benefits outweigh their detriments? How many triggered alarms actually represent a foiled car theft? Is the cure worse than the disease? Am I beating a dead horse? The correct answers are no, no, mighty few, absolutely, and probably. A pox on these loathsome gizmos! Send them back to Hell from whence they came!! In the public interest I say suppress, ban, prohibit, outlaw, disallow, proscribe, and generally get rid of them! We will all sleep better.

© 2014 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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