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.
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.”