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Horn-honking etiquette

Updated on September 11, 2014
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The right and wrong of honking

This is a guide to proper and polite use of the automobile horn.

How often do you use your car horn? How often should we use them? Are there standards of etiquette that everyone should observe?

Yes! And here they are.

Car horns date back to the earliest horseless carriages in the 1800s.

Honking as an alert

The intended purpose of the car horn is to alert another driver to some condition on the road.

These are valid messages to communicate with the horn:

  • "There's about to be a collision if we don't take action."
  • "My car is malfunctioning and is not in my control. Beware."
  • "The light is green now." Driver's Ed Guru says that we should give the driver in front of us four seconds before we decide that they haven't noticed the light. If we honk to get their attention, it should be a quick beep, not a long blast.

You should not use the horn to say:

  • "Get out of my way; I don't feel like slowing down." Always take the first step in avoiding dangerous situations.

    In his book, My Sense of Silence: Memoirs of a Childhood with Deafness, Lennard Davis, a son of deaf parents, tells of how his mother was killed by a driver who probably assumed that she would get out of his way when he laid on the horn.

"Your horn is not a substitute for your brakes."

Auto Club of New York

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Honking to express anger

DO NOT DO THIS! Honking is often a precursor to road rage! You don't know the other drivers around you and you wouldn't want to do anything that makes them so angry they violate the terms of their parole.

It's OK to honk briefly to let someone know when their driving is about to cause a dangerous situation. But if the danger is past, do not honk just to suggest that they should re-enroll in driving school.

Also, according to Driver's Ed Guru, research has proven that horn honking has no effect on clearing traffic jams.

One way I try to avoid getting honked at is by showing the other driver that I know I just did something dumb.

When I'm in the wrong, I put my hand over my heart and mouth the words "I'm sorry" as they pass me.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Honking as a means of communication.

The only officially sanctioned use of the horn is as an alert. Whether it's appropriate in other situations is a matter of opinion.

  • Some people disapprove of honking as a way to say, "I'm here to pick you up. You can come out now", but I think there are times when it needs to be done. Getting out of the car and going to the door seems simple, but it's not simple if you can't find a parking space or if you have a sleeping baby in the car.
  • It can be distracting and a nuisance to other drivers if you use your horn to say, "Susie! Hi! What a coincidence that we're both driving down the same street at the same time!" Everyone else will be wondering if you were honking at them or if there's danger on the road. If Susie happens to see you, you can wave at her. Otherwise just tell her later, "I saw you driving down Avalon over by City Hall Tuesday morning."
  • It is also confusing if you honk to say, "I'm demonstrating my love for Jesus, as requested by your bumper sticker." Even though the person's bumper is saying that they want you to honk, the driver is not actually thinking about their sticker every moment they're on the road. When you honk, they, just like anyone else, will wonder whether they did something wrong, whether they need to watch out for something, etc., before they figure out that you were just giving them a fellowship honk.
  • On the other hand, honking to say, "I wish I could join you in your sidewalk protest, but I have to go to work right now," will be much better understood. The folks on the sidewalk are, indeed, thinking about their cause every moment that they're out there. So when you honk for nuclear disarmament or honk for a flat tax, they know right away what you're trying to say.
  • And no, gentlemen, you should not honk to say, "You look incredible in that short skirt." Even if you figure she wants to be honked at, don't do it.

Instead of honking, some people suggest keeping a hand-made sign in your car that you can briefly hold up in your window to show another driver that you agree with their bumper sticker.

Legal case about honking!

In June 2009, an appellate court in Washington ruled that horn honking is not Constitutionally protected free speech.

What are honku?

Honku are haiku poems about honking

or about traffic in general.

Read all about it at Honku.org

Toot your own horn!

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    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E. Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I really like this, Joan. It's a much needed subject. I particularly like your turn of phrase about not provoking other drivers to violate the terms of their parole.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      @anonymous: incorrect use certainly on counts 2 and 3, even on 1 there would be no immediate danger posed by the slow driver. Read your Highway Code for the correct application of horn ues. IF YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR HIGHWAY CODE YOU SHOULDN'T BE BEHIND THE WHEEL OF CAR! period

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you for the solace in this article Joan, just yesterday I pulled into Walmart and stopped safely to tell a lady going the opposite way that her lights weren't on, which would've been very dangerous to go into the state highway, she thanked me graciously, yet 2 impatient cars behind me fell the need to blare their horns as if Armageddon was coming. I literally stopped for about 3-5 seconds to warn the passerby, which i would hope anyone would do the same for my loved one if they seen a hazardous thing about to happen. I see the first driver in the parking lot and rebuke them for the use of horn behind me, they begin to rant and rave about "you can't stop like that, driving is a privilege not a right"...blah blah blah. I just shewed my hand and went on my way and parked, you were not going to get anywhere with road rage people. I go inside and the person sees me and brings this big guy to confront me, and i said ..."hey lady, what if that was your grandmother or one of your kids(which by the way, she had 4 in arm and hand at that moment) that were driving, wouldn't you want somebody to warn them as well before they go into a major highway and possibly get hurt, even fatal or another vehicle vice versa or use your imagination"... She wouldn't answer the question, which showed her ignorance,impatience,self-centeredness,rage,horrible judgment,lack of couth and cordiality. If my vehicle is stopped, you, the vehicle behind does not know if it is due to a broken suspension, a flat tire, a konked out engine, possible health reasons inside, etc... You the driver must approach with caution and alert, at which time you can then pass or just wait (AT least 3-5 SECONDS) to see what unfolds. A car horn is not to tell someone to get out of the way, so if you're not an officer/trooper of law enforcement, you have no authority to dictate traffic flow or what have you. Now you can say..."well, didn't you stop the flow of traffic when you stopped to alert that driver about their lights ?" Touche', yet my rebuttal to that is,..." Yes i did, yet it WASN'T a public road, it was a private parking lot for Walmart, which offsets many laws about stopping the flow/etc... about traffic, which in turn would still enforce the person/vehicle that is behind you to approach and tail the vehicle in front of them with caution and true etiquette because in N.J. law, the driver behind the vehicle is liable beyond belief if any fender-bender occurs, meaning:stay a safe distance no matter what." period. As an asterisk, i am a Class A license holder with every endorsement you can possibly have and if you ask any Law enforcement about this situtation, they would tell you the driver behind must always still proceed any incident with caution and virtue, no matter what, if you can avoid collisions you must and a regular car horn (not an air horn for a 80,000lb moving vehicle) is not an authoritative voice for the few and the proud, which possess and are saturated soo sadly with road rage. The morale of this story, do the right thing and help those that may need help because you may need that help one day. Shew those away that try to bring it to another level, it's not worth it, as the Bible says in Matthew 7:6...."neither cast ye your pearls before swine".... Don't feed into it and even pray for them, i know it can be hard, yet do it, you'll feel much better and so will the Lord. take care everybody.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @delia-delia: Bless your soul doll. Amen, i would too. :)

    • AlishaV profile image

      Alisha Vargas 7 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Thanks for writing down what the sane among us have been thinking. Horns have to be the most overused part of a car. Great topic!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Try to let your honk sleep for a month. I never used it for 50 years.

      And I dive quite a bit faster than average people. Never felt need

      to honk. Just brakes and not too strong.

      I bet it makes more confusion than any useful effect.

      If you feel unsafe without honking, take an advanced driving course

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 4 years ago from UK

      I think there are a whole lot of people out there who need to read this! Round these parts they seem to honk to say "Hey here I am!" at someone's house (when it's totally unnecessary) and again to say "I'm going now" (when they just said goodbye on the doorstep) and then honk some more if they see someone they know (which can be alarming as a pedestrian). Oh and sometimes they treat the horn in a stationary vehicle as a toy for children... grrr!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      Driving etiquette is unfortunately area where we all have A LOT of room to learn... Thanks for some explanations. I hope they help somebody...

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @missbat: Hahaha could you give it to the moron whose grandkid goes to my daughter's daycare? :) Out of the two times he's been behind me, he's honked 2 times. -_- If I didn't notice a light, I have no problem with a short beep to alert me. He's one of those people who wait .0001546465116165 of a second to honk. LOL As soon as the light turns green, according to them, we should already be moving.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I honk for three reasons.

      1. When the person in front of me is going UNDER the speed limit posted.

      2. When the person in front of me is at a red light, waiting to go right (and is actually allowed to go once it's clear). They sit there anyway, waiting for the green.

      3. When someone is rude and won't let me in a traffic/crowded lane

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      great ..i want use it ....

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Honking here in Cambodia means "I am here, Take care" so nobody gets angry.

    • missbat profile image

      missbat 6 years ago

      I'm going to send this lens to my cousin so she can learn some horn etiquette! Great subject for a lens!

    • LouiseKirkpatrick profile image

      LouiseKirkpatrick 6 years ago from Berkshire, United Kingdom

      I own a driving school and safe driving is a subject close to my heart :) You give some excellent advice is this lens - Blessed by a fellow SquidAngel :)

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      great lens...5*...now that I'm older, oops meant mature, I only honk when needed, but if I see a bumper sticker that reads "honk if you love Jesus" well, I just have to honk!

    • KOrazem profile image

      Seeking Pearls 7 years ago from Pueblo West

      I enjoyed this read Joan and can honestly say I rarely use my horn. Nice Job!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      This is an excellent Lens! Of course it assumes the rude jerks on the road can read:) When my daughter was still living at home, her date thought it appropriate to honk when he arrived to pick her up. He was rather surprised when I came to the car to give a lesson in appropriate dating behavior. My daughter was embarrassed but the guy came to the door from then on. I think sometimes people really just have never been taught what is appropriate.

    • profile image

      GrowWear 7 years ago

      Nice lens, Joan! ...Well, a pet peeve is someone driving up and honking in the yard for me to come out. I would much rather the person used their cell phone and gave me a quick, "I'm out here." I do understand that honking in the yard is unavoidable sometimes, though. :)

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 7 years ago

      Joan, what an original idea for a lens and most of all, you delivered great information! BTW: it should be required reading for all New York drivers ;D

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