Friday, September 26, 2008

Lay off the horn (exception: preventing an accident)

Use your car horn solely to prevent an accident, and NEVER to punish someone’s bad driving.

Why? For two reasons. The first is that it's a question of safety. Too much horn use desensitizes us, and we simply pay less attention. It's like the boy who cried wolf. It's startling, it's loud, and at 110 decibels, it can damage hearing (as can anything above 85 dB) especially to nearby pedestrians or drivers with windows rolled down who aren't protected from the noise by closed windows.

But the second reason is just as important, and where I'm going to direct most of my comments.

Because it's rude and obnoxious and contributes to sound pollution. Remember that when you lay on your horn, you aren’t just getting back at the offending driver — but also at everyone else who is within earshot (and at 110 dB, that's a fair distance). There have been many times when I jumped out of my skin — while driving — when someone sounded their horn, and it usually wasn't even directed at me. It's rather unpleasant.

And just think how much quieter traffic would be.

I lived in New Jersey for 5 years, and I've always contended that people on the East Coast are a lot more polite than most folks give them credit for — generally as pleasant, at least face-to face — as anywhere else I've lived or visited. However, it's somewhat less true when you are behind the wheel. Why toot the horn, when a 30-second blast would do? It's like saying "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO10!!!!!!!" instead of "go" to a stranger. Why would anyone do that?

I didn't really notice the difference until I moved back to the Midwest, and I realized how much quieter heavy traffic is here than it was out east. And it's not like I don't have to deal with heavy traffic — contending with rush hour in Minneapolis is certainly no picnic. While it's not as heavy as the traffic in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, New York, or even Newark, navigating I-494 during rush isn't exactly fun.

It's quieter here, but not quiet enough. All too often I hear car horns being used unnecessarily.

Before someone who knows me (like my stepson) points a finger and tells me that I'm a hypocrite, I have to admit I can't claim perfect horn use myself. I once blasted my horn at some girl in a crosswalk at the grocery store, who for some reason known only to herself decided to stop and dance in the road (and yes, she was doing it to make me wait longer - the contemptuous look on her face spoke volumes). Maybe the dancing girl deserved something for her behavior, which was obnoxious, as she was not just holding me up, but also the line of cars behind me. I still wonder why the heck she chose me? It's one of life's little mysteries, I suppose. But I digress. No matter what she "deserved," noisy escalation that impacted lots of other drivers and pedestrians just wasn't called for, even if seeing her jump was a little satisfying (though the obscenities that followed were less so). I've also sounded my horn to make my 14-year-old stepson hurry his dawdling self out of the house. I'm sure my neighbors loved that — probably as much as parents love their teen's date, who honks from the car, instead of ringing the doorbell. So, with red cheeks I admit to being rude on occasion. But, I'll do better.

Anyway, I think we can all use some restraint at the wheel. Please use your horn as little as possible.

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