By Jordan W. Charness

“I just can’t take it anymore!” an exasperated Peter cried out. “The noise is incredible and I have not had one decent night’s sleep in the past three weeks. Every time I go to bed the darn thing goes off again. Just when I get up to complain it turns off. Then I go back to sleep and an hour later the whole thing starts over again. Please do something!!”

“Calm down Peter,” I insisted. “You haven’t told me what you’re talking about and what exactly you expect me to do.”

“The alarm. My neighbour bought a new car with a fancy new car alarm. It’s so fancy that I don’t think he knows how to use it. All I do know is that it goes off every couple of hours and the siren won’t let me sleep. It must be illegal to make that much noise at night.”

Peter was right. It is illegal to make that much noise in the middle of the night. Enforcing this legality however might turn out to be somewhat difficult.

Car alarms have come a long way in the past 25 years. What was originally a wire connected to the car’s horn has evolved into a sophisticated electronic anti-theft device. As cars have become more expensive, more thieves have concentrated on ripping off the more popular vehicles.

Films like “Gone in 60 Seconds” have popularized and even romanticized the car thieves’ image. Nonetheless, stealing cars is a serious crime that can send you to jail for several years. Joy riding and car theft are synonymous. If you are tempted to borrow someone’s car without their permission you can still be charged with this offence even if you intend to return it.

There are two basic types of car alarms: those that immobilize the vehicle, which include ignition kill switches, fuel cut-off valves and other devices intending to make it difficult for someone to drive your car away; and noise-making alarms that attract people’s attention to a car thieves work. The assumption is that if your car is emitting a loud screaming noise a thief will be less inclined to continue to try and steal it.

There are other types of antitheft systems out there: from the extremely low-tech club type device which is a steel bar attached to your steering wheel, to the high-end satellite vehicle locating devices that beam your car’s location to a satellite and back down to a corporate vehicle alarm office.

No matter which type of antitheft device you use, a professional thief will probably be able to disable it in a few moments. Fortunately, most car thefts are attempted by people who don’t really know what they are doing. These would-be thieves can be foiled by most car alarm systems. These petty criminals would rather attempt to steal a car without an antitheft device than face the additional difficulties associated with trying to steal a car with an alarm.

While all this may be very interesting, it does nothing to help Peter get a good night’s sleep. The problem of false alarms has been around since the beginning of car alarms. Over the years the technology has improved but false alarms are still a fact of life. They may be due to a design flaw such as Shaker type devices that set the alarm off every time a little box inside the car shakes. A high wind or someone leaning against the car may be enough to shake the Shaker and set off the alarm.

At one time, silent alarms became popular. When the alarm was set off it would not make noise but would send a signal to the car owner notifying him or her that someone is playing around with the car. The theory was that the car owner would rush right out to confront the thief. Although there was no noise to disturb others most car owners were reluctant to pick a fight with someone in the midst of a criminal act.

The car disabling devices are also silent but do not always work as well as you would hope. Some studies have shown however that these devices may be more effective then the loud sirens of the other variety of car alarms.

In this day and age many people are so used to hearing car alarms going off that they ignore what may be happening… unless it happens while they are trying to get to sleep.

What Peter can do is to call the city and ask them to come and check the car alarm for noise levels that exceed the permissible amounts in the city at night. The owner of the car alarm may be fined for disturbing the silence and everyone’s sleep.

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