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Horn Not OK Please

Horn Not OK Please

March 05, 2011

Reduce horn use! Save the world!

I don’t know how I did it, but two and a half years passed and the horns never bothered me. Sure, there were odd moments when a motorcycle or taxi blasted the horn too close and I jumped, and there were kids speeding past my house and tooting their horn all the way down the road, but the thought never occupied my mind for longer than a few seconds. Until now, that is. Just lately, horns and their abusers have suddenly become a menace – to be yelled, gesticulated and cursed at. I cannot escape them. They’re everywhere, all the time.

In case you didn’t know, Indian motorists are notorious for their liberal horn use. You probably did, though, especially if you’ve been here. It’s generally the third thing one notices about India after stepping out of the airport terminal: first there’s the smell, then the heat, and finally the chorus of horns. In my case, I got a ride in a beaten-up van from Indira Gandhi Airport to my hotel in PaharGanj. I found myself whipping my head around every time the driver hit the horn, expecting to see some terrible hazard approaching; there was never anything there.

I quickly realised that in India the horn is not a last-resort means of communicating urgently with another road user, for use in emergencies only. No - in India, the horn is a multi-purpose tool for all occasions. It can take the place of:

  • headlights (two short taps)
  • orange side indicators (tap a few times as other vehicles part)
  • brake (hold down until in the clear)
  • rear- and side-view mirrors (tap sporadically until required manoeuvre executed)
  • Western-style emergency horn as above (hold down with gusto for ten seconds, yelling of expletives optional)

If I’ve missed any other uses, do please let me know. Still, you get the point: the horn is just part of how you drive. Most visitors to India can’t stand it but grudgingly learn to put up with it over time. I don’t know why I’m the other way round but somehow, I managed to come to terms with it on that first night.

Good things never last, though. The tipping point came about six weeks ago as I was walking to the bus stop. It was 7 am and I was starting my hour-and-a-half-long commute to work. From behind me, I heard a vehicle approaching – noticing first the engine, then the horn. The driver was actually hitting the horn at clearly defined intervals, and as they approached and passed me, they tapped it incessantly like a child with a drum. I looked around; there were no other cars on the road as far as I could see in both directions. That’s ridiculous, I thought, but was about to continue on –

– and then I noticed the red ‘L’ plates in the car’s rear window, and the garish word art of a driver instruction company plastered across the back bumper. This was a learner driver – having a driving lesson – from a professional – who was instructing them to hit the horn every ten metres. This learner, beginning a life of road use, was learning that this is how you drive. With the horn. Every ten metres. Except when there’s a hazard, like an intersection or a saip on his way to work. At such times, you are at liberty to go nuts.

Since then, I’ve been in a phase of horn resentment. If I perceive someone’s horn use to be unnecessary, I glare at them and give an arms-lifted ‘come on now’ gesture. If it’s really bad, like the times when they blast it as they pass me – as if a vehicle moving at high speed beside me somehow escaped my attention – I yell after them until the ringing in my ears subsides.

What to do? This has been the status quo for decades. There are two rules on Indian roads: 1) the biggest vehicle has right of way; and 2) employ the horn wherever possible. I can’t change either of these. I simply hope that whoever reads this reconsiders their horn use, and tries to reduce it if they find they’ve been excessive. There are plenty more pressing concerns facing the world at the moment but if things were a little quieter, and the roads a little less in-your-face, maybe we’d have more energy to try and address those bigger issues. Or, in bumper sticker form:



  • vdaniel
    01.05.13 06:01 PM
    I think this is more serious issue and cannot be avoided. we Indians are considered backward due to our improper practice like blowing unnecessary horn. people cannot remain cool headed due to horn pollution. our mental abilities are killed due to noise pollution of traffic. we cannot progress much if we can't function with cool head. to us basic problems are minor. and due to this our ability can't come out properly. we need to become more and more aware!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    11.03.11 10:29 AM
    Thank you everyone for your comments! I'm glad I'm not alone in my condemnation of excessive horn use. Let's start an informal movement!
  • Sudha
    07.03.11 06:39 PM
    I didn't realise what a nuisance horns were until I went to live in London for a year. For the first few days, I didn't realise what was different about the traffic, apart from the discipline, till I figured out the complete absence of horns ! Though the "silent traffic" initially freaked me out, I got so used to it, that when I came back to India the traffic noise freaked me out !

    I have tried telling people not to honk, but then I am the weird one.
  • Vinayak Ranade
    Vinayak Ranade
    07.03.11 05:02 PM
    Happy to know a NRI's interest. I am also NRI but Not Required Indian here as well as abroad.

    Without horn I had been driving for last 35 years in India, Iran, Oman and back to India. No one noticed it. One thing is better here in accidents there are only couple of vehicles involved. But not in Iran or Oman or Dubai, at least 10 or more innocent drivers become victim of fast traffic without any horn.

    In India there is a slogan to develop Rural area, so easy way is make Urban area as Rural area, all are at same level. Horn is an extension of a bell hanging by the neck of a bull on the farm or road.
  • Punit
    07.03.11 02:48 PM
    I've been thinking to write on this Indian passion, and you just did it marvelously... :)
    What to say, for some Indians, honking is sort of obsession too, they don't know when or why to honk, but they honk as they're habitual to...
  • S.R.Ayyangar
    06.03.11 10:02 AM
    Honking is a big nu-sense but no body want to understand. The moment traffic signal turns green, people starts honking without even bothering the vehicle in front to move!
  • sibi
    05.03.11 11:08 PM
    I was on an assignment at Hajipur in Bihar recently. I found the drivers in that town, the most passionate 'honkers'. It was as if the vehicle's accelerator is on the horns of the vehicles!!
  • Dhanesh
    05.03.11 07:45 PM
    Some of them have antaksharies between them and try to complete each others tunes.

    And to the college teens with blow horn's on your pulsar. It is not a Dude thing to do, you imbeciles.

    Agree with you NRI :)
  • Farila
    05.03.11 01:56 PM
    This was the first thing we noticed when we landed in USA. The roads were extremely quite and we thought that something must have gone wrong. LOL. I agree that something must be done to curb this nuisance.
    BTW there is another use of sounding horn which you may not have noticed. To make the women or girls jump and look towards them ;)
  • jayanth tadinada
    jayanth tadinada
    05.03.11 10:41 AM
    Some Lorry drivers even have their signature tunes and a fairly complex system like the morse code which they use to communicate with other lorries in the same group when they're going to the same place!
  • zephyr
    05.03.11 07:46 AM
    What an impassioned plea! Like you say, we begin to accept certain nuisances but then suddenly one day they turn around and zap you, for good this time. I completely agree with the post. Give us blessed silence!

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