Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Are You a Honker? Die.

A fun article from my favorite online mag Slate.

From "Honk if You Know Why You're Honking: The car horn is beeping useless," by Dave Johns, Nov. 25, 2008.

"For years I've been telling my mom that she ought to learn to honk a little more. After all, honking is a venerable automotive tradition. Just over a century ago, Henry Ford's first Model T rolled off the production line. Inside, near the driver's side window, was a grapefruit-sized squeeze bulb affixed to a twice-looped brass trumpet. It was a horn—one of only a few basic amenities that came standard. Thus, the car that "put the world on wheels" also gave the world a way to complain about it: a horn for the great honking masses."

I've never had much interest in becoming a journalist --- it seems like a brutal profession especially at the ground floor (I think the breakneck pace would crush me), but if I ever do write something even quasi-journalistic I want it to sound like this. Irreverent, personal, thoughtful, well-researched, reasonably objective and fun! Love Slate. Just love it.

The article basically illustrates what most of us know (and some of us relish) that the car horn is only secondarily a safety device, at best, but primarily a tool for scolding. The majority of drivers, even many of my most gentle-natured friends, abuse the car horn, in my opinion. What I hadn't considered, but the article points out, is that there's more evidence to suggest that horns are dangerous than there is to suggest they promote safety.

Music to my ears, was my first reaction. Sudden, earsplitting noises are my Kryptonite --- I get mad at ambulance sirens, wailing babies, even a telephone that rings too loudly. When a sudden noise is both piercing and completely unwarranted, I approach (what I believe to be) the known limits of my homicidal impulses. One afternoon when I was twelve, my best friend at the time sounded an air horn inches from my one and only working ear while I napped on my father's docked sailboat, and to this day I doubt he knows how close he came to drowning in our backyard lagoon.

When roaring motorcycles approach --- you'll forgive me if I don't buy the argument that a muffling mandate for bikers is unsafe and discriminatory --- I instinctively look on the ground for heavy objects to throw.

I've never killed anyone, but if I ever do, I'm quite sure it will be a stranger standing behind me who laughs too loudly.

So I was thrilled to learn that the godforsaken car horn might actually cause more accidents than it prevents. As a member of America's unilaterally deaf population, I also found the linkage (article's citation) to hearing loss quite vindicating. Was a movement to eliminate the car horn altogether actually plausible?

Then I recalled a fateful encounter I had driving on the highway years ago. About to change lanes, I signaled, checked my mirrors but not my blind spot, and began to shift just as a loud blare from the car passing on my left startled me into swerving back to my lane. I reluctantly confess that a horn has saved me from at least one nasty accident that I can remember.

So how do we (how do I) reconcile horn abuse with the fact that horns can be vital when maneuvering to avoid an accident is not an option? Well I tell you, I really, really love the idea of increasing the volume inside the car (article's citation). If you really feel the need to honk, you ought to at least experience your offense the way everyone else does.



Amanda said...

In my experience the nearer you are to a city the more likely you are to honk or be honked. There seems to be direct correlation between proximity to urban locations and road rage. One of the many reasons I live where I do, frequently being let out at junctions, waved to with a genuine cheery smile when I reciprocate. It's just so much easier than the "I don't know where you're going but I've got to get there before you" attitude.

Alex B said...

I'll second your opinion - I live on 1st ave in NYC... guys that drive empty trucks at night can die too.