While legendary fabulist Aesop may have been the first one to write it down in the sixth century B.C., the story of the boy who cried wolf has been a part of human consciousness for far longer. The boy, who was guarding flocks of sheep, gave out with several false alarms until his fellow villagers refused to play the game any longer. When a real wolf came along, they did not respond. Result: the boy, as well as several sheep, ended up as a guest of honor at the wolf's lunch table.
Queens neighborhoods today are assailed by similar false alarms. Some nights it seems as if every car parked along a given street is equipped with an alarm intended to deter thieves. Unfortunately, while these devices may be loud, they seem to have no effect on the borough car theft statistics. So many car alarms have gone off needlessly so many times that anyone standing within 10 feet of such an unholy cacophony will ignore it.
Not long ago a law was passed making it mandatory in New York City for car alarms to shut off after a certain amount of time has elapsed, a development for which we can all be thankful. However, enough of the old-style devices still exist to impinge on the quality of life to which we are all entitled, and the new ones still go on long enough to constitute a serious annoyance to everyone within earshot. That the devices are required to shut off within a specified interval provides some measure of relief to beleaguered citizens. It isn't enough, however.
It is an insult to the peace and dignity of our city that car alarms still continue to blare into the night, disturbing the sleep of innocent New Yorkers. There are other, far more effective ways of foiling car thieves, such as steering wheel and gear shift locking devices, fuel cutoffs and hidden transmitters that signal local police when a car has been stolen, all of which are more effective than a car alarm. Every police precinct in New York City has car theft prevention programs, such as VIN etching in which the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) is etched into the window glass to foil thieves who steal cars for parts, and programs that alert local police to stop a car if they see it being driven between certain hours (early morning for one program, during the work day for another) or by anyone younger than a certain specified age. Participation in some of these programs earns a driver a reduction in his or her car insurance premium; all the programs are free.
We can't think of a single car theft an alarm has ever deterred. Car thieves listen to them, laugh and go on with their work under cover of the noise they make. Police don't make responding to them a priority, and no one can blame them--it's the story of the boy who cried wolf all over again. These things go off when a truck goes by, a heavy object hits a nearby sidewalk or, we suspect, when someone so much as casts a covetous glance at a car. When other, quieter devices are more effective as well as less costly, there is no reason for car alarms to disturb the peace of our neighborhoods.