Back of truck in India where car horn is frequently used. "Horn OK Please" is common site.

Car Horn Usage: Horn OK, Please

Back of truck in India where car horn is frequently used. "Horn OK Please" is common site.
Image Credit: N Engineer

The use of the car horn seems offensive. This morning, a friend commented on Facebook how she held herself back from laying on the horn at someone who was driving below the speed limit blocking two lanes of traffic. Now, I’m one who’s quite confrontation averse, who tries hard not to offend anyone, and yet I believe using the horn was perfectly warranted. In fact, I would contend that this is the exact purpose for which the car horn was designed. There are, of course, laws that dictate that car horn usage should be limited to prevent noise pollution. But what about how the horn is used?

In India, the land of using everything to its fullest potential and more, there is nary a moment when you don’t hear a chorus of horns, sung in various pitches by cars, trucks, buses, auto rickshaws, and even the bells on bicycles. Add in the shouts from drivers, the blasting of music, and the revving of various engines, and you have the musical soundtrack of Indian roadways. It’s a sound I always miss when I return home to the silence pressing upon me when I drive. And while I normally cherish silence and solitude, the silence on the roads here feels lonely.

There is much that a car horn can do, much that it can say. There are many degrees of honking that can communicate much. Consider what the horn does, and how it can be used most effectively.

Whether you’re stuck behind a car that doesn’t proceed when the traffic light turns green or a car that drifts into your lane while driving below the speed limit, what you say depends on how you say it. With the car horn, it’s a question of time, pressure, and frequency.

Quick Tap Car Horn

One quick half-second tap on the car horn is the simplest, most polite way to communicate with someone in another car. Think of it as a quick “Hello” or polite “Excuse Me.” Perhaps the other car’s driver was adjusting the radio station or talking to someone in the passenger seat. It’s okay (after waiting a few seconds) to gently draw their attention back to the task at hand.

Two Second Car Horn

Sometimes, a quick tap on the horn doesn’t do the trick. The car ahead still doesn’t move, the lane ahead isn’t clear, and you can practically feel your blood pressure rising like you’re on an episode of Tom and Jerry. You can certainly try to repeat the quick tap, but if that doesn’t work, there is a middle ground before pressing down on the horn like there’s no tomorrow. And this is the wonderful two-second press. Emotionally-speaking, this would be the equivalent of speaking up, not just repeating the same thing you did before, but more like using that louder, sterner voice you resort to that lets your kids know you mean business.

Maybe the other car’s driver had the music up too loud to notice the sound of the horn, maybe they’re stuck talking to someone in the passenger seat, or maybe they’re sneaking a look at their text messages. Whatever the reason, rather than get angry, you just want to press the horn long enough to say “Hey there! Check out the light!” or “Wake up!” In most scenarios, this ought to do the trick. Startle but not scare.

Angry Press Car Horn

To me, this is what the phrase “lay on the horn” implies, this angry trumpet-blare acting as an outlet for barely suppressed rage. On the sidelines at your kid’s soccer game, this would be the equivalent of yelling at the ref, calling him blind for missing that clear penalty, shouting at your kid to get into space or run faster. Watching a football game on television, it’s shouting at the screen for a horrible play call, a moronic missed catch, the clear and obvious hold by the defense that should have been called. The three-or-more-seconds Angry Press is rage and fury rolled into one, and it translates to something this family-friendly post will only translate as “Move it, Jackalope!”

Multiple Press Car Horn – Heavy

In some cases, pressing down hard onto the horn multiple times may feel quite satisfying. However, while the Angry Press is the equivalent of an obnoxious fan or soccer parent that earns dirty looks or a stern warning, the Multi-Presser is itching for a fight. These are fans that throw bottles on the field, parents who interfere with the game to the point of being thrown out. This choice conveys a sense of entitlement, expecting everyone to do exactly what the multi-presser wants without any consideration for others’ needs. This may not be the intended interpretation, but as soon as someone engages in this choice, they do so at the risk of public condemnation. Any of the preceding options clearly delineate wrongdoer from wrong-pointer-outer. This option, however, crosses that line and forces bystanders to side with the other party. Tales will be told of how you totally lost it and went out of control. Soon your car will be looked at askance on your daily commute, and you will be known as the troublemaker. You’ll have to change your regular route, add ten minutes to your drive, and curse the day that stupid car ever pushed your buttons so. Totally not worth it.

Multiple Press Car Horn – Light

There’s a fifth, equally-obnoxious option here, equally earning public condemnation. It is the car musician, who believes they can entertain those all around with cutesy tunes tapped into this unconventional musical instrument. Stereotypically found in the form of boyfriends sitting in front of their girlfriend’s house or on her driveway (or carpool drivers), letting her (and all the neighbors) know that they’re ready to pick someone up and take them on their latest adventure, it is rudeness personified. A signature sound is one thing, but these days, if the driver cannot be so inconvenienced as to walk to the door, they can either wait patiently or text of their arrival. Musical accompaniment not required. Even if they’re supremely talented, and can do a marvelous rendition of “Hotel California” on the car horn, they should find a venue, print up posters, and charge admission for the show. Or get someone to record them and become the next YouTube sensation.

Choose Your Car Horn Well

There you have it. A quick tutorial on how best to utilize your car horn for maximum efficiency. You can, of course, use the horn for other reasons, such as getting the attention of another driver (someone you recognize) to say hello, to ask for directions, or to ask for some Grey Poupon (although I believe that’s best done without the use of the horn, but rather by pulling up next to someone, opening your window, and waiting for them to open theirs). But this risks confusing other drivers and affecting traffic. But if you want to make sure your intentions are not misinterpreted, this handy guide should help guide your way.

So go forth and horn OK, please.

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