A Quest to Stop the ‘Beep-Honk-Chirp’ of Car Horns

September 28th, 2009 by Desiree Parker

Two men who live an hour apart – one in Richmond, one in Williamsburg – share the same desperate dream: that one day, cars will no longer make that irritating “beep-honk-chirp-chirp” noise each time they’re locked and unlocked.Two men who live an hour apart – one in Richmond, one in Williamsburg – share the same desperate dream: that one day, cars will no longer make that irritating “beep-honk-chirp-chirp” noise each time they’re locked and unlocked.

And one of those men aims to make the silencing of that noise a new rule under the state inspection code.

J. Tyler Ballance, a retired Navy officer living in Richmond, says it all started with his study of microsleep while he was a safety officer. Microsleep is an episode of very short sleep, just a matter of seconds, which can happen without warning when someone is sleep deprived.

Read the proposal and comment

Read Ballance’s new regulation suggestion here here.

Comments will be taken regarding the issue from October 12 through November 13. Email Safety@vsp.virginia.gov or call (804) 674-6774 to share your thoughts.

You’re sitting at your desk at work, or – worse – driving your car, and your brain switches off for just a few seconds. That could be long enough for trouble.

According to Ballance, in urban areas like where he lives, the constant racket from cars locking and unlocking throughout the night is enough to wake you out of deep sleep every night. Without enough rest, episodes of microsleep are more likely.

“A hundred yards from where I live,” he says, “there are around 800 cars. Think about it – people work at all hours, and sleep at all hours. There’s always this ‘beep-honk-chirp-chirp’, as I call it.”

Ten years ago, he points out, people didn’t jump on the hoods of their cars and yell, “I’m locking my car now!” Nor would anyone want their front doors honking at them whenever they leave for work or get home.

So Ballance decided he’d do something about the issue.

He’s written to various manufacturers to ask them to stop making these loud entry devices, but he’s had no luck. So he looked at the state inspection code, 19VAC30-70-240, which says basically that horns need to be in good working order. State code § 46.2-1060 also says it’s unlawful to use a car horn (or any car noise) for anything other than as a warning device.

It just doesn’t say anything specifically about “beep-honk-chirp-chirp.”

So he’s petitioned the State Police to change their inspection rules, requesting that car lock alert systems that are not in the silent mode (your owner’s manual can explain how to do this) not pass inspection.

State Police Safety Division Captain Ronald Saunders says that anyone can put forth these sorts of suggestions, though they don’t usually happen that often. He says the board is required to open the issue up for a comment period, and then to review the idea at a meeting.

“I don’t know why he’d start with us, and not with his legislators,” says Saunders. “We can’t change [inspection] code without it agreeing with Virginia code.”

Ballance believes the inspection code is where he needs to start.

Williamsburg resident Kirk Lovenbury has been having the same trouble as Ballance. He lives in Bristol Commons, and he’s been awakened in the middle of the night by the same locking and unlocking noise.

“People come and go and toot their little horns – well, some are beeps and squeaks, and some are horns…we spent years making cars quieter, and now they’re noisier,” Lovenbury says.

Lovenbury put notes on the cars of his neighbors who he believed were the regular offenders. He pointed out that noises that loud at night were against the homeowner’s association rules.

“Everyone complied, but some grumbled about it,” Lovenbury says.

Then, in August, the City of Williamsburg passed its spiffy new noise ordinance. Lovenbury went to the City Council work session to ask that the car lock noises be excluded from the list of exceptions to the ordinance.

At the meeting, City Attorney Joe Phillips explained that the car lock alerts are not included in the list of exceptions, and that if the decibel level of the sound is high enough to violate the ordinance (55 decibels at night), that could be cause for citation.

A car horn (used in the traditional fashion) is generally around 110 decibels.

So, would Lovenbury support Ballance’s new rule amendment? “Oh, yes, I would definitely support that,” he says. People using their loud car locks at night are “just very, very rude.”

6 Responses to A Quest to Stop the ‘Beep-Honk-Chirp’ of Car Horns

  1. Anonymous

    June 24, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Just bought a VW that honks when you lock it. Took it to a dealer to get rid of that honk but they couldn’t make it stop. VW says, “changing that feature would void the warranty.” Need to put pressure on the auto manufacturers. It’s embarrassing and it disturbs people – especially at night. There’s more than enough noise in the world.

  2. Anonymous

    October 29, 2010 at 4:16 am

    It’s a strictly American thing, this ridiculous and unnecessary stupid beeping when locking. I have lived throughout Europe and never experienced this until I started renting cars in the US. I have been so embarrassed when locking the car late at night and will apologise on behalf of the retarded car.

  3. Anonymous

    March 15, 2011 at 12:05 am

    I HOPE to god that the manufactures read this, I hate this feature on my Toyota. American cars have so many of these stupid features, a person could make a lot of money if they could figure out a way to mod vehicles from doing things like this.

  4. Bill Tyler

    October 12, 2011 at 2:11 am

    And what’s wrong with tht feature on a cr? All of the ones that I know gives you the option of just locking the car and not having what you call that annoying sounds. If you doln’t like it then disable the feture. I know i can but I prefer to have it enbles so in case I forget where I left the car I can find it more easily. Sorry you do’t like it but I hope the manufacturers keep the feature. Now go ahead and make your irritating comments

  5. scott brittle

    November 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Everyone has/needs something to fuss about. The foriegn cars do have beeps and chirps both mercedes and BMW and almost all japenese cars due.Truth of the matter it is what it is and won’t change. If they were to make a law banning it, It simply wouldn’t work! Simply speaking on some vehicles this feture is controled through the ECU and on other cars have seperate modules but disconecting it would diable other features such as remote controls/elec. door locks and security alarms and etc.I am a technician of 28 yrs things use to much simpler but everything was back then.Now is now , then was then sorry!

  6. P. Rachiele

    July 3, 2012 at 1:54 am

    I had three cars in the last few years. I disabled the beep on all three. At night, you can wake up people. Even during the day I did not want to take the chance to wake up a night worker, a sick person, someone on vacation having a nap, a sleeping baby etc. Loud beeps startled me on commercial street and I did not like the experience. If people in Europe and Japan can lock their doors silently, I think we are smart enough to do the same.

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