For pretty much all of us, our first reaction when he hear a car alarm go off is to think “Oh, hell, I hope someone shuts it off soon”. Almost no one thinks about calling the police to tell them that a car is being stolen. I had thought that these were a new invention, within the last two decades or so, but Zachary Crockett writes that they were first developed as far back as 1913.
He says that our suspicions that the alarms do not signal a theft in progress is justified by the data that shows that 95-99% of alarms were falsely set off by “vibrations of passing trucks, or glitches in the car’s electrical system” or “loud music, strong gusts of wind, and cats”. Only 5% of people report taking action against a possible theft but 59% have reacted by filing complaints about the noise.
Car alarms are a poor defense against theft because professional thieves can often disable them within seconds or a few minutes for the more sophisticated ones. Furthermore, not only do they do little to prevent theft, they actually enable them. He says that some criminals deliberately set them off, sometimes with many cars, so that the alarms mask the sound of them breaking the car’s windows.
It turns out that there are better systems than the annoying car alarms. One is a device that immobilizes the car. Another is something that alerts just the car owner. But these do not seem to have caught on.
Car alarms going off falsely are a serious problem in bigger cities where cars are densely parked on the streets and can easily be triggered accidentally and people live in apartment buildings that abut the streets and thus can hear the noise. I live in a suburban area where cars are parked in garages and thus less likely to be set off accidentally. Even if they do, the houses are separated and so there are fewer people nearby to hear them. In fact, I hardly ever hear a car alarm go off.