A car horn is for safety, so don’t try to bully me

The solution to bad honking? Limit every driver to 100 in a lifetime – if it’s possible

Originally published January 30, 2017

For any car in Canada to be street legal, it has to have a horn. It’s a fact I don’t think too much about, until I spend a weekend driving in a city like Boston.

I recently spent a weekend driving in Boston.

I have a new proposal for people who drive in North America. At birth, you shall be given one hundred horn uses to use as you see fit. But only one hundred. Like three wishes from a genie or two balls in bowling, that is it. One hundred. When you’ve used them up, you’re done.

My editor shuddered when I mentioned car horns; he’s driven in India where, like many other countries that are less regulated than our Canadian lines-on-the-road and follow-the-rules driving mandate, driving is a spirited game made up by the participants on the fly. He said you honk to indicate you are about to overtake someone, which results in a cacophony of horns that left his ears ringing for days.

We are not India. We have traffic signals and clearly marked roadways and drivers who have been rigorously tested before being set free on the roadways. Well, maybe not rigorously, but still. We all know what’s supposed to happen when we set out, and that horn you have should be used if somebody is in imminent danger. Someone backing out blindly and doesn’t see you? Tap the horn. Kid chasing after a runaway soccer ball onto the road? Tap the horn. Somebody neglected to check a blind spot and is heading into your car? Tap the horn. Squirrel headed under your car? Tap the horn. The horn is your friend.

Unless….

Unless it is in the hands of the angry, the ornery, the bully or the impatient. A horn then becomes a tool of not warning, but a weapon. When I was a kid, our old Rambler had a huge chrome press bar that filled the lower half of the red steering wheel. It enabled my father to not just lay on the horn in fits of automotive rage, but let him do it with gusto. You could put two whole hands on that bar, and mash it with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Increasingly, the horn retreated to smaller and smaller buttons, often hard to distinguish in a sea of technology now sported by so many steering wheels. It’s kind of hard to feel much triumph when you go to blast someone and only end up changing the radio station. There is a disconnect between poking a button and slapping the heel of your hand with force.

My father was wrong when he got into one of his horn-offs with some other frustrated driver. My mother would pretend she wasn’t in the car, and we would crane our heads to see if the other driver was swearing and turning red with rage. It was stupid and tense and I’m sure it’s why I rarely, if ever, use my horn now.

Not so, Boston drivers. Their streets are squirrelly little shortcuts that start and end with no apparent plan, much like many of the streets in some of the oldest and most amazing places in the world. I understand that; the forefathers weren’t really worried about on-street parking and advanced turn lights when they were plotting the Revolutionary War.

I’m comfortable driving in places I’ve never been. I had a great navigational system in the Infiniti Q60 I was piloting, and my passengers were familiar with the area. We were there for a non-typical event so there were many, many out-of-town pedestrians along with the usual uni students doing their thing. And I think only one person actually honked directly at me, but regardless, there was no shortage of car horns busting out all over, and all night. Why? You can’t get from there to there any faster than the next guy, that light will remain red until it doesn’t, and you don’t get to mow down someone crossing in front of you whether they should be or not.

One of two reactions occur when you honk at someone: They ignore you and blithely carry on, which makes your blood pressure rise, or they engage you and honk back and you start a horning match (which can escalate), which makes your blood pressure rise. You know what doesn’t happen? The interior of your car doesn’t suddenly become infused with the relaxing scent of lavender as an apology pours from your radio from the person you just honked at.

One hundred honks, folks. You get one hundred honks. Make ’em count. I’d use most of mine for squirrels.

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One response to A car horn is for safety, so don’t try to bully me

  1. Pat says:

    Around here a horn can get you killed. Try honking at at Bull Moose in mating season some time.
    They’ve got “horns” too.

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