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Aaron Friedman, The Alarmist

Jun 01, 20044 mins
Physical Security

Aaron Friedman has put off his composing in order to push legislation in New York City that would ban the audible alarms, which shriek at 125 decibels

Aaron Friedman is a twentysomething classical music composer in New York who used to describe himself as “apolitical.” Then, one night last year, one of those hyperstrident car alarms jerked him out of a dead sleep in his Washington Heights apartment. In a Wagnerian fit, he went online that very night and discovered, to his bleary dismay, that as a security measure, blaring alarms have proven utterly ineffective and worthless.

He’s been an accidental activist ever since. “Even the insurance industry has said they’ve studied it, and they can’t find any evidence the alarms prevent theft,” he says. Friedman has put off his composing in order to push legislation in New York City that would ban the audible alarms, which shriek at 125 decibels, the same amount of noise you’d hear standing 100 yards from a jet engine revving for takeoff.

CSO Online spoke with Friedman at a more civilized volume.

CSO: First, let’s play word association. What’s the first word that comes to mind when we yell “RRNNT RRNNT! WHOOOOO-OOOOOP WHOOOOO-OOOOOP! REWREW REWREW! BLUE-DOO BLUE-DOO!”?

Aaron Friedman: [Laughs]

CSO: What is the status of the legislation in New York City?

Aaron Friedman: There were two car alarm bills reintroduced in City Council this year. The Council speaker has put off the issue a number of times, but now the mayor is planning to revamp the city’s noise code for first time in 30 years. To be honest, I’m a bit confused by all of it right now. I do know that in Vancouver, Canada, the City Council is doing something similar, and it’s expected to take off.

CSO: As a self-described apolitical person, are you frustrated by the politics of all this?

Aaron Friedman: I didn’t intend to make my hatred of car alarms into a political fight. I thought maybe I’d be able to explain to car owners what they were doing and they’d listen, and then I could go back to my regular life.

CSO: Ha!

Aaron Friedman: Yeah. There were just too many individuals I would have had to talk to. It’s funny because there are many issues that people automatically consider political, like health-care costs. They expect elected officials to do something about it. According to the census, noise pollution is the number-one complaint people have about where they live. More than crime or the quality of schools. But, for some reason, people don’t make it political.

CSO: Have you ever had car alarm rage, we mean, besides the night you rampaged over to your computer to violently research the problem?

Aaron Friedman: The one time I was most irate, I charged into the street and saw someone getting into the car that had kept me up all night. I laid into him good. But it turned out he didn’t speak English.

CSO: We have a brother who lives in Brooklyn and who is a graphic designer. He complains about the same thing. Maybe the problem isn’t the alarms. Maybe it’s all you artists and your creative temperaments.

Aaron Friedman: It’s interesting because I’ve had people tell me they tune it out. But studies show that even people who think they’ve gotten used to the noise haven’t. They show higher levels of stress hormones and higher blood pressure than people who aren’t subjected to the noise.

CSO: Why do you think so many people invest in a piece of security that doesn’t work at all?

Aaron Friedman: Car alarms are a sales scam. I think there’s a macho element too. People like the idea that it will draw attention when they walk away and do the “bloop-bloop” with their key chains.

CSO: Speaking of key chains, you’ve noted that for $75 people can get a pager for their key chain that vibrates when someone messes with their car. It’s a silent and possibly more effective solution than the noisemakers.

Aaron Friedman: Brilliant right? Instead of a town crier yelling out the time, you get a wristwatch. But they’re not very popular. In a way, I think it’s because it makes you responsible for your own car. An alarm puts the onus on everyone who’s hearing it.

CSO: Charles Dickens, among others, got organ-grinders banned from the streets of London once upon a time. But after they were gone, people missed them. Will the same happen if car alarms get banned?

Aaron Friedman: No. No one likes the sound of a car alarm. It’s purposefully obnoxious. I can’t wait ’til they’re gone. It happens all the time, that when I’m researching and writing on car alarms, a car alarm goes off. And I think to myself, “Someday I’ll get you, my friend. You just wait.” It’s almost satisfying.