Honking. And I’m not talking about Canadian geese; I’m talking about the honk of a car horn. I loathe being honked at.
Ok, before I tell the whole story, full disclosure. I’ll admit that sometimes I deserve to be honked at. I’ve been known to inadvertently cut off other drivers, who then alert me to my unfortunate timing with a blast of their car horns. When this happens, I wave a big thank you and I’m sorry back at the honker. Now, that we have that admission of guilt out of the way, let’s talk about the more common honk I’ve encountered recently.
It’s the drivers who honk to communicate their impatience and anxiety about wasting multiple seconds of their self-absorbed lives while I pause a moment to shift my foot from the brake to the accelerator and move forward towards the green light. They usually don’t stop with a single honk but continue with a series of repeated beeps, announcing to the world that they have very little ability to self-soothe.
Last week, my teen and I were making our early morning day-camp pick-ups. We leave at 6:20 a.m., and it’s usually a pleasant drive, without much traffic. I’m a morning person, so I’m content to drive while my teen usually snoozes beside me until our first stop. Picture me—the happy, alert driver, toddling merrily along. I pulled up to a light, and it turns green, but before I can move forward, the driver behind me starts to honk repeatedly and to gesture madly. That horn-obsessed driver threatened to take the zip-a-dee-do-da right out of my day—if I let him. Once we were through the intersection, I considered my options as the driver changed lanes and passed me, only to be stopped at the next light. I pulled up beside the honker and waved. And then, as luck would have it (thank you, Chicago construction), the driver had to shift back into my lane so that he was behind me again, as the street became a single lane. Let’s just say that as a law-abiding Chicago citizen, I felt duty bound to come to a full and complete stop at the next four stop signs and to offer a friendly wave behind me at each stop. No road rage from this driver. Watching the tantrum ensuing behind me in my rear view mirror restored my pre-horn-honk zippy mood. When the driver could finally maneuver into another lane, he flipped me off, and at the same time, another car pulled in front of him, causing him to miss the green light. I zipped through. My, oh my, what a wonderful day!
As I drove along, I wondered how effective horn honking is at keeping drivers safe, so I did a little research. Jeff Muttart, a traffic-accident reconstructionist, has pored over hundreds of surveillance videos of real-life car crashes and near crashes. In 2005, he concluded that emergency horn use is not associated with decreased accident involvement. About half the emergency honks were meant to chastise and came only after the danger was over; the other half were just preludes to a crash. They really didn’t serve any purpose at all. They were just, “Hey, by the way, I’m going to hit you honks”
Also, we stink at appropriate honking. A 2012 survey by the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators showed that most people take two to three times as long to honk as they do to brake or steer. This honking deficiency is caused by drivers viewing the horn as a tool for yelling at people rather than for safety. So, when we want to avoid a crash, we don’t think to use the horn.
In the great state of Texas, where I leaned to drive, I was taught that honking at another driver could result in being shot. I don’t honk—unless it is a true emergency alert. If I absolutely have to honk at an inattentive driver, it’s with a very light touch to the horn. Did you know the typical reaction time to a stop light change is four seconds? The usual honker sounds off in less than two seconds.
And finally …
Horns don’t honk at people. People honk at people. Stop it.
Feel free to quote me but be sure to add a friendly wave.
Please feel free to sound off!
Odd Loves Company,