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Horns and Honking

Think of the statutes passed by our federal and provincial governments as ‘the tip of the iceberg’.  Under the water line are even more volumes of regulations addressing the whole hierarchy of detail thereby systemized and controlled by the statutes.

The rule about the horns

The British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act, for example, extends its rule-making authority over details to the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations which, in Division 7, set out all the equipment required by vehicles legally permitted to be driven or operated on a highway in the province. And here can be found – almost at the very top of that list – the rule about horns:

7.02 (1) Subject to subsection (2), every motor vehicle shall be equipped with a horn which will emit sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of 60 m, but no horn shall emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or a whistle.

Even more details about horns are set out in section 8 of the schedule to Division 7:

A motor vehicle must be equipped with a horn as required by section 7.02 of the regulations.

  • The horn must be firmly mounted on the vehicle.
  • The horn control must provide a positive control over the sound emitted. A cycle of sound must be interruptible.
  • A horn must not produce a musical or any other sound not normally associated with a warning device.
  • The horn control must be readily accessible to the driver.

If this apparently essential piece of equipment is something you rarely, if ever, use it would seem unlikely for top-of-the-list regulatory status, but, there is more history, and increasingly more car-horn study and debate than we might have guessed.

What Wikipedia tells us

Wikipedia has a surprisingly detailed article on vehicle horns covering the various types and the development of the basic technology.  Other online sources address why, apart from using the horn as originally intended, i.e. as a warning device, we honk. Here’s the upbeat rationale:

[While] “Some of us honk out of frustration… Others honk when seeing a long-lost pal on a street corner.  A few old-fashioned folks favor two short beeps as a final farewell when departing …. And there are honks to convey exaltation as well… following important sporting events. [And] It’s a great way to express joy while exiting a congested parking lot.” Others focus on the more common ‘unpure honk,’ the honk as an act of aggression, expression of grievance, and desire to reprimand. David Merritt Johns, a Slate journalist summed up the wealth of data on unpure honks as follows: “People honk more when it’s hot…, more on weekdays…, more if they are male…, more at beaters than at Benzes, more if they feel they can do it anonymously, and more in the city than in the country.”

Whether honking is actually useful as a warning device is also in question. Traffic accident expert Jeff Muttart has been quoted as saying that “emergency horn use is not associated with decreased accident involvement”— in short, indicating an accident is imminent by honking doesn’t make it preventable.  One certainty, however, is that honking contributes greatly to urban noise pollution and overall din.

Road Rules by Cedric Hughes