Honk if you … well, maybe not

Did you know that honking your horn in New York City can score you a traffic ticket with up to a $350 fine?

It’s true. While not widely issued, as evident by the incessant and needless honking (really – do any of the people sitting in gridlock, honking their horns get to their destination any faster than those who don’t honk?), the law does exist.

This got me to thinking about the dos and don’ts of using a car horn. When is it appropriate? When is it not? Is it offensive when used in what could be considered an inappropriate situation? Is there a way to make honking a better form of communication and therefore less offensive?

The basic consensus is, using your horn as necessary to avoid a collision or other dangerous situation will keep you out of trouble. For example, on a multiple-lane highway, if another driver begins drifting into your lane, it would be appropriate to tap your horn to let them know you’re there. Or, if a pedestrian stepped into the road in front of you, using the car horn to let them know you’re there is fine.

Did you know, in most states where vehicle safety inspections are performed, a working car horn is required to pass inspection? This, I guess, supports the idea that it is, and should be used as, equipment to avoid dangerous situations.

When is use of your car horn not appropriate?

If you are picking up your date and attempting to skip meeting his or her parents, don’t pull up at the curb and honk the horn until he or she comes out of the house. As the mother of a young lady who will be dating far sooner than her father cares to consider, this is inappropriate for a number of reasons. Suck it up and go to the door. Meet the parents. It’s the right thing to do.

When it’s your turn to drive for carpool and the usual suspects are running late, don’t wake up the rest of the neighborhood by sitting in the driveway and honking the horn. At 6 a.m., this is not effective carpooling. Let’s be honest — it’s disturbing what the neighbors could quite possibly consider an otherwise peaceful morning. Especially if they have not yet had their first cup of coffee and instead are jolted awake by your blaring car horn.

But what about the gray areas?

Like when a horn is beeping incessantly because the car alarm has been activated. This really can’t be deemed appropriate or inappropriate because it isn’t anyone’s fault, unless of course it was activated due to someone attempting to break into the vehicle. In general, though, car alarms malfunction and people accidentally hit panic buttons on key fobs. Things happen.

Then there are the questionable instances of car horn usage that are clearly more a test of patience than necessity.

For instance, you’re patiently waiting for a green light at what seems like the longest traffic signal EVER and now the car in front of you is not moving. Are they fiddling with the radio? On their phone? Checking themselves out in the mirror? Out to lunch? At what point is it okay to give the person in front of you a “hey, let’s get things rolling” honk?

In instances such as these, shouldn’t there be a different kind of honk? After all, we’ve all been there. Is it necessary to blare a loud, rude horn, when a more friendly-sounding reminder would be more appropriate?

In the spirit of Mark Rober’s idea, here’s to more happy honking!

Honk, honk!