Honking

I am still stewing pointlessly about a dumb incident from yesterday, where YET AGAIN someone honked at me when I was right and they were wrong. This happens so often, I am concluding that people who honk are (1) overconfident and (2) REALLY OFTEN WRONG ABOUT HONKING and (3) NOT LEARNING THAT THIS IS THE CASE.

In yesterday’s example, I was at a T-shaped intersection where I was on the stem of the T and had the only stop sign. There was someone behind me. First we had to stay stopped because three cars were coming from the right. When the third car passed, the guy behind me HONKED and then revved and tried to DRIVE AROUND ME—that is, he started pulling into the lane going the opposite direction. And it’s lucky for him he wasn’t faster, because otherwise he would have CRASHED INTO THE PERSON COMING FROM THE LEFT. He couldn’t see that car, because of a snowbank—but I COULD see that car, WHICH IS WHY I DID NOT GO. But did the driver of the car behind me think to himself, “She’s still stopped, so there must be a good reason, perhaps something I can’t see, oh I wonder if that snowbank is obstructing my vision”? NO. He thought, “This IDIOT must be stopped for NO REASON, so I will HONK MY DISPLEASURE and then BREAK A LAW BY DRIVING FIRST ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD AND THEN DIRECTLY INTO AN INTERSECTION WITHOUT STOPPING, LIKE A NON-IDIOT WOULD.” I was RIGHT and he was SO EXTREMELY AND EXTENSIVELY WRONG, but I was the one who got honked at.

On another occasion that could have had even more severe consequences, I stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The person behind me came up fast, then HONKED, then swerved around me—then had to slam on the brakes hard to avoid hitting the pedestrian. AGAIN: I was RIGHT and the honker was WRONG. I am sure there are cases in the history of time when a driver has stopped in the middle of the road for literally no reason other than being an idiot, but it is EXCEEDINGLY RARE. (If you are considering arguing with me about this, I think you might benefit from having a Honk Assessment Specialist ride along with you for a few weeks to help scan these situations for reasons. There are a LOT of Wrong Honkers out there, and you may be one without realizing it. There is no shame in reaching out for the help you need.)

There’s an intersection near our town where there is a right-turn lane and also a large sign on the traffic light saying “NO RIGHT TURN ON RED.” I cannot count how many times I have been honked at for stopping in that right-turn lane on red. The person behind me will honk, then throw their hands up in the air like “Who is this idiot?” I AM THE IDIOT WHO CAN READ SIGNS. But that person behind me goes on with their day thinking some idiot was stopped for no reason. NO LEARNING OCCURS, AND THE HONKING SYSTEM ENDURES.

OH! Here’s another one, now that I’m on a roll. There is an intersection that has a tendency to get clogged, so that the light turns green but the intersection is full of people who got partway through and can’t get the rest of the way through. It finally clears just in time for the light to be yellow, and then those people are so frustrated they scoot into the intersection anyway, clogging it in the other direction. It’s such a problem, the town has put up a big sign: “DO NOT BLOCK INTERSECTION.” Even WITHOUT a sign like that, the law is that you don’t start going through an intersection unless you can get all the way through, but the sign lets drivers know that this particular intersection has a particular problem with that. I have to go through this intersection twice on days I have pottery class, and so many times I’ve “stopped at a green light” (i.e., stopped before going into the intersection even though the light is green, because there isn’t room to get through and in fact there is already a car halfway in the intersection) and the person behind me has LEANED ON THE HORN. Listen, I DO SEE that it appears I am stopped at a green light; I DO UNDERSTAND how that might lead to temporary confusion, or even an accidental honk. But look a little AHEAD! Think, “I wonder WHY she is stopped at a green light. Is there a large obstruction in the road? A sinkhole? A cute dog? Is the intersection in some other way unsafe? Is there ROOM TO GET THROUGH THE INTERSECTION, AS REQUIRED BY LAW?” It is at times like this I wish I could get out of the car and explain the situation, instead of having the person behind me go on with their day thinking that so many other drivers are idiots and that only frequent honking keeps things running at all.

66 thoughts on “Honking

  1. Celeste

    I’ve come to believe that the honkers are angry and this is how they release it. It’s not as if a horn communicates anything other than a noise. It has no degree or inflection. It’s supposed to be used as an alert, but we’d all be a lot safer if that’s the only thing people used it for. It’s becoming just another noise to be tuned out.

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  2. Susan

    My fantasy in these cases is that I put my car in Park, calmly walk around to the car behind me and ask them WTF is their problem. (You’re in a hurry? Let me slow you down further.) I would never do it, of course, but I would love to.

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    1. rlbelle

      My dad actually did do this once – I can’t remember why he got honked at, but as the story goes, it was so unjust a honking, and he was so ticked to be honked at in that situation that he opened the door and stepped out of the car. The person ended up driving around him, but I love that he actually got out at all. I wouldn’t do it these days because of road rage, fear of guns, etc. I don’t trust people not to run me over on purpose and claim self defense, even. But it’s fun to think of my dad and imagine myself doing something similar.

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  3. Sarah

    I agree with Celeste. But I live in Minnesota (Minneapolis) where people almost never honk–it’s considered very rude. You might get a light beep if you miss a change in traffic light–after a minute or so. Or someone might give a honk if a car is changing lanes and missed seeing them in the next lane. But it’s pretty rare to have someone give a genuine, emphatic honk. It happens–road rage is real–but then people just assume the other driver is from out of town.

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    1. Tessie

      Ha! I never considered the fact that this is a “MN Nice” thing, but I’m from MN, and I consider honking incredibly rude and lecture my daughter constantly in the car about how honking is ONLY for safety/emergency avoidance situations, and NOT for annoyance/impatience.

      I do feel that the prevalence of distracted drivers (mainly on their phones) has increased impatient honking. If you are stopped or hesitating, the honker assumes that you are on your phone, looking at your phone, or otherwise distracted in a way that doesn’t involve driving, which gives them the right, if not the OBLIGATION, to honk.

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      1. Melissa Hunting

        This is absolutely a midwest thing, in my opinion. I have become a TERRIBLE honker since moving to Colorado. In my defense, they all deserve it.

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        1. Dawn

          I live in the Midwest, and I don’t encounter a lot of honkers. I think angry honking is an East Coast thing- ever driven in Boston traffic?

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    2. Susan

      I grew up in Minneapolis and that’s exactly how I remember it. We’ve lived on the east coast for decades now, and every time we travel west, we are amazed at how — once west of the Mississippi River –courtesy on the road sharply increases. Minneapolis seems a stand-out even for the region, which is pretty strikingly courteous overall. It always takes a while to get used to it. Right in the cities, someone sees a chance to wave me into heavy traffic and does so, smiling and waving … wha –? For the first few days I find myself staring dumbly, not responding. Alas, one quickly becomes used to it — warming to it — and by the time we head back east over the Mississippi again, the acclimation process has to start up again in reverse. I remind myself again and again … don’t forget, people here change lanes without looking. Oops, school zone, be careful not to get rear-ended. Oops, don’t come to a full stop at stop signs, you might get hit.

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      1. Jessemy

        Ha! I live in Saint Paul, and honking is not terribly common but more common than in rural SD where I grew up. I have to say I’m more apt to honk in Saint Paul than I am in a smaller town because of the anonymity of city life! I get a little impatient with the delay at green lights when the person ahead of me is on their cell. I honk twice – tap tap. Like, come on now, let’s get moving!

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  4. kakaty

    I have the opposite problem in our town where about 2 years ago the reconfigured an intersection by putting in a right turn lane in all directions. The intersection is now 3 lanes from all directions and the lights are longer. However, there are GIANT signs that say “Right On Red After Stopping” and people will pull up and stop and wait for a green while there is no oncoming traffic (as most of the people coming from the left are in the right-turn lane and therefore not coming through the intersection) and OMG GOOOOOOOOOO. (I very rarely honk, I just sit and mutter profanities in my car)

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  5. Sarah

    I am a honker. I do not recall an instance in honking out of ignorance and impatience, though. My honking is reserved for people who are going EXTRA slow, due to being so engrossed in the phone or text conversation they are having, or people who almost run me over/merge into the lane I am in and almost hit me, also typically due to phone/text conversations. I also honk at people who come flying by me in active school zones, or other similar dangerous driving behaviors. I am the grandma of the road, being a nagging honker about PAYING ATTENTION and PLEASE DON’T RUN OVER THE CHILDREN, fortheloveofgod.

    My husband is an ignorant, impatient honker, which is highly embarrassing, and why I usually drive when we are together. I need to let him read this post.

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  6. Suzanne

    Ugh this is SO FRUSTRATING! In all cases, you are so clearly RIGHT! With SAFETY and THE LAW firmly on your side! And you are right that possibly the worst part is that they NEVER LEARN! They just go right on thinking they were right in their assessment of the situation and justifiable in their honking and BLARGH! It is in those situations that I most wish a traffic cop were right there to see their bad behavior and give them a proper schooling …but of course these rogue honkers are wily and seem to always avoid police attention.

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  7. Squirrel Bait

    And furthermore! Honking should be reserved only for extreme circumstances like averting a crash. Honking is like emergency vehicle sirens. If you hear it, it should mean something quite important. I don’t believe in honking to express one’s impatience, no matter how extreme. I also don’t believe in honking to somehow correct others’ driving. Most people have spouses to do that sort of thing for them.

    I am starting to understand more why driving to the city for medical stuff stresses you out if you live in such a honk-happy region. I live in the Midwest and cannot tell you the last time I was a party to a honking incident, on either end. So you have my utmost sympathy that overconfident idiot drivers near you are apparently emboldened to announce their presence on the road with such regularity.

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  8. whitney

    I am so glad you wrote this post. There is polite honking and impolite honking. I think a light tap when someone is looking at their phone and doesn’t see that the light has changed deserves a light honk. I do this frequently but I believe you can control the tenor of your honk. However, there is so much rude, incorrect honking out there and I too stew on it for hours and sometimes days.

    For example, yesterday I was in the work parking lot driving down the backside to get to the employee parking. Totally normal, totally fine. A person was coming in the other direction on the WRONG SIDE OF THE LANE right at me. And then they honked like I was doing something wrong. It was so unnerving.

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  9. Nicole MacPherson

    Swistle Swistle Swistle! I hear you, girl. In fact, very close to my house there was that very issue, with a pedestrian crosswalk – MORE THAN ONCE a car would stop to allow the pedestrian to cross the street and the car behind swerved around, HITTING THE PEDESTRIAN. In one case, that pedestrian died. This particular crosswalk is right by a) an elementary school and b) a senior’s apartment complex. So, really, driving with caution would be a good idea considering the potential pedestrians. Finally the city made a big curb on the right hand side so no one could swerve around to the right, but of course, people can still drive into oncoming traffic AND THEY DO. I cross there often to walk to the library and frequently stand there as several cars see me and just keep going. ARGH I could talk all day about the idiocy of other drivers!

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    1. Aurora

      Sounds like a place for something, even some traffic cones, between the lanes or possibly the sort of traffic sign they put on my college campus after someone died crossing the road. They’re blinky yellow things on both sides of the road that come on immediately when you press the button and announce “The yellow flashing lights have been activated. Cars may not stop.” over and over again in an annoying robotic voice. Drivers could ignore them on purpose of course, but they’re hard to ignore by accident. Of course, they’re so unpleasant for the pedestrian that it’s tempting not to press the button.

      Not that any of that does you a lot of good, not being in charge of road design, and absolutely none of it should be necessary. Ugh. Humans.

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    2. Katie

      Yes, it is amazing how so many people seem to forget that they are operating a very large, very fatal piece of machinery that can easily kill an entire family. Walking my 3 young children to school, we encountered this very situation where one car stopped for us at a crosswalk so we could cross and another car came quickly behind them, and swerved around to pass (probably going at least 40 in a school zone). If I hadn’t seen this car come up so speedily, that car would have killed all 4 of us.

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  10. Kalendi

    I can so relate to this post. We have many of these problems in my small town too. The one that really gets me is when I (or someone) is stopped at a crosswalk for a pedestrian and the car behind takes that as an affront. An acquaintance of mine had that happen: honk, honk, honk, zoom around and hit the child on the bike in the intersection. Fortunately the child wasn’t hurt but the honked at driver felt very concerned and justified as she called 911. oh and the blocking the intersection thing…we had a major bridge rebuilt so our streets were very congested and there was so much blocking the intersection. I was a pedestrian most of the time (take the bus people, avoid the construction), but cars would be so anxious to get through that intersection or make that turn that I almost got hit three times (in three months) and got honked at each time like I was wrong.. I’ll stop now, but boy do I relate to this post.

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  11. Lisa

    I also wish there were some kind of indication that your car could flash that says “It wasn’t me that honked!” I get worried when I’m behind someone (and I can tell why they are stopped — obstruction, pedestrian, etc) but the person behind me can not. So the person behind me honks. Except the drive in front of me thinks I honked except I didn’t because I can see that they are appropriate paused. Ack! Hate that feeling. Particularly if I’m in an area where an angry person might get out of their car to yell at me for honking EVEN THOUGH IT WASN’T ME!

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    1. Maggie

      YES! In addition I need a “Sorry! I accidentally hit the horn, I didn’t mean to beep” indicator because my horn seems to have a hair trigger and I’ve done this more than once and felt like a total jerk.

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  12. Stephanie

    I have a very satisfying story to add to this! My parents live on a 25mph residential street. It’s straight and fairly long. 3/4 of the way down the road there is a slight hill to a busy railroad crossing.

    One night I was driving at 25-30 mph and some idiot came rushing up behind me beeping his horn. He then got so impatient he PASSED ME ON THE HILL ON THE RAILROAD CROSSING at probably 45 mph.

    The cop on the other side of that hill pulled him over immediately and I sailed on by with a little wave at 25 mph.

    Best. Moment. Ever.

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  13. Shannon

    OMG the green light/intersection blocking thing happens to me EVERY DAY on my way home from work (meaning I SEE it but don’t DO it because don’t block the intersection, idiots, you’re still gonna be stuck at the light) because there is a very busy intersection that has a ton of pedestrian traffic as well. Then the pedestrians won’t stop to let the drivers blocking the intersection through so the traffic flowing in the other directions gets backed up and ARGH. Some of this would be resolved by them putting an advance green for left hand turns there, but I sense that’s unlikely to happen, so we all continue to suffer and listen to inappropriate honking and see much hand-waving.

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    1. Aurora

      Yes! I’m teaching my partner to drive and we had a very scary evening early on. I’d taken him out of town to try to find someplace he could focus on following the curve of the road without a lot of traffic to deal with, but because we were relatively new to the area I couldn’t be as selective as I would have liked to be. We ended up driving down a rather narrow, very curvy road facing right into the setting sun (so, clearly a poor choice on my part), when someone rushed up to within about eight feet of us and leaned on their horn for…an extended period of time. There was very limited shoulder with guard rails so there was no way for my partner to get off the road, the sun was right in his eyes and he didn’t have enough experience to dare take a hand off the wheel to block it. He was panicking and trying to find something to do differentIy and I just had to hang onto my own equanimity with both hands and forcefully insist that no, he was not going to speed up, no keep doing exactly what you are doing, they are wrong, until the guardrail ended and he could pull off (going far too fast because he was afraid if he braked properly he’d get slammed into) into some overgrown grass, the car behind us racing past before we even got fully off the road, still horn still blaring. We switched drivers at that point of course and I eventually stopped shaking enough to take us home. I have no idea how close we were to the speed limit, there weren’t a lot of signs, but even an experienced driver should slow down going around blind corners into the sun.

      On a lighter note, I also hate hate hate people using their horns to get my attention as a pedestrian (almost always so they can talk to me about my dog) or even to call a friend out of a building. I know cultures around it vary but it is a loud obnoxious sound designed to signal danger and it scares me.

      I never use my horn, and I kind of worry that it wouldn’t come to mind in an emergency. Maybe I need to find a back road of my own and practice. An empty back road.

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  14. NYorker

    You should see the drivers in NY / NJ. The moment the traffic light turns green, they’re on the horn if you haven’t already started driving. It’s my pet peeve abs I will purposely delay by a few seconds going through the intersection…

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    1. Gwen

      I hear what you’re saying but as a Jersey girl transplanted to VA I cannot handle the way southerners approach a green light. I don’t honk though. I got over that long ago, but I do lecture my children about how green means go and grrrrrr……

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  15. Anon

    The bad one in my area is people aggressively merging onto the interstate. I’ll be driving along at the speed limit, and some idiot will come flying down the merge lane and force their way in front of me, forcing me to slow down to let them in or they’ll hit me. And if I honk to indicate they’re about to hit me – which is, after all, the purpose of horns – they honk back and flick me off! But, but, that’s Not How It Works! If you don’t have enough room to merge in front of me, you have to merge behind me!!!!! I have the right of way – you have to yield (that’s why there’s a yield sign)! (Other drivers are frequently challenging to people who, like me, care deeply about How It Is Supposed to Work, and think life would run so much more smoothly if we All Did the Correct Thing.)

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  16. Chris

    PREACH SISTER!!! One of the best days of my life was the day I said, “It just doesn’t matter” in the car, when someone ahead of me was driving too slowly. Maybe they are unfamiliar with the area, or looking for a street, or have something that might tip over in the back, or are trying to calm a child while driving. I wish we would all just SLOW DOWN. In so many of your examples, the other driver could have hurt someone!!!

    I had an awful had-to-be-the-honker situation once: on a left turn with a traffic light, the person ahead of me at the front of the line did not pull close enough to the crosswalk line/signal. So the signal wasn’t registering us! It was a big, busy intersection with long waits for your light to come around. So finally on the second time it skipped us, I gave the briefest tap-honk and when the driver looked at me, exasperated like HELLO THE LIGHT IS RED, IDIOT, I tried to motion with my hands to scoot forward. It was awful!! Finally they did inch forward and the next time, (the third pass for our light) we got to go. GAH!

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  17. Katie

    I have changed my daily route to avoid one of these frustrating situations. There is an intersection with 2, side by side, left hand turn lanes. I always get in the outside turn lane because I have to make a fairly immediate right. For some crazy reason, many inside turn laners fail to notice that there are in fact 2 turn lanes and make a wide left turn into the outside lane. Then when they notice that I too am turning left, they honk and act as if I’m the crazy person making an illegal left turn. It happened so frequently and would make my blood boil so intensely because I knew that they would go about their day thinking they were right and I was wrong, that I decided I don’t need that stress and added an extra block to my route. It makes me mad just typing this out.

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    1. WL

      I deal with this same thing at 2 different intersections during my commute. HELLO???? Sign for a double turn lanes means you MUST stay in your damn lane!!!!!

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  18. Alice

    Haha! I live in a high-honk area and so get honked at SO OFTEN for stupid sh*& that used to bug me, knowing I was in the right… but now I can’t even recall a specific incident, despite one likely happening within the last 24 hours, because I immediately excise honkers-in-the-wrong from my brain after the requisite check to make sure I am not actually doing something wrong/in danger/causing danger/etc.

    I definitely do the “chirp” honk at lights/stop signs when people are on their phones and don’t notice they could go, but otherwise I keep the honking to Danger Situations like “Hey I’m Literally In The Exact Spot You’re Trying To Switch Lanes Into While Going 75 Please Stop Before You Sideswipe Me Thx.” But even those are so common I don’t remember / stew about them afterwards like I used to.

    DC metro traffic is… good times :)

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  19. Slim

    I think we need ” I AM THE IDIOT WHO CAN READ SIGNS” bumper stickers.

    I will say that I once did a lot of honking at someone who was trying to make a left turn despite the “no left turn” sign. And I suspect he wanted to know why I was honking when his blinker was on.

    BECAUSE THERE IS NO LEFT TURN AND THE NONSTOP ONCOMING TRAFFIC IS WHY, NIMROD.

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  20. Jd

    I always do the math. Aggressive driving and speeding so rarely get you where you are going faster. Driving 10 miles an hour faster will ONLY save 7 seconds per mile driven. So on a 15 mile commute home speeding 10 mph over the limit will only gain you 1.8 minutes. Even on a 100 mile trip you only get to your destination 12 min faster. 20 mph over the limit haves you 14 seconds a mile. Red lights are usually about 1.5 minutes. It may feel like it but the reality is that aggressive driving doesn’t really save a meaningful amount of time. My time is valuable but at 7 seconds a mile just not worth the risk (ticket, accident).

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    1. melissa

      I want to make it clear I am totally in agreement that people should stick to the speed limit (in fact, roads are designed – curves, sight distance, side slopes for the posted speed), but that 7 second figure is incorrect. It’s a factor of how fast you are going vs. how fast you would be going. If you had a 10 mile commute, and the speed limit was 10 miles per hour, it would take an hour to get home. If you had a 10 mile commute and went 20 miles per hour (10 over the speed limit), it would take you 30 minutes, saving you 30 minutes by going 10 miles per hour faster. If you have a 10 mile commute and the speed limit was 50 mph, it would take you 12 minutes to get home. If you exceeded the speed by 10 mph (going 60 instead of 50), it would take you 10 minutes to get home, saving you 2 minutes. As the speed limit goes up, the time saved decreases.

      Still, so many factors go into determining the speed limit. Fuel efficiency was big before (so fuel wouldn’t be wasted when there was a shortage), but is not quite as crucial as cars have gotten more efficient. Sight distance, vertical and horizontal curves, ability to break, side slopes and of course driver expectation. Where I am from, roads are flat and straight. That is the expectation of drivers and speed limits dip in the rare case of curves or hills. My husband is from a mountainous area and the speed limit seem so fast to me because I am not used to steep grade changes, poor sight distance and small shoulders.

      I find this stuff so fascinating.

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  21. Saturngrl

    I have had to honk — way too often — when stopped at a crosswalk for a pedestrian. I do it when I see an idiot driver going around me or otherwise careening toward a collision course with a pedestrian I have stopped for. I figure maybe it will alert the driver, but also importantly let the pedestrian know my stopped car is offering a false sense of security.

    I do wish there were an option to give a really light beep-beep (even the briefest of taps on my horn makes a rather blaring noise) when someone just needs a little nudge or notice.

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  22. Gina

    Here is a satisfying story: A few weeks ago, I headed out of my building to grab some lunch, and there was some road work just up from the intersection which was causing some gridlock. There was someone in the left turn lane, but they couldn’t turn because traffic was blocked down that road due to the road work. So the second person in the turning lane decides to lay on her horn. I mean, not a quick are you paying attention toot, but LAYING on the horn for a good solid minute. Everyone in the area was like, “WTF with this bitch?” It was clear that something was going on even though she couldn’t physically SEE the road work, since even pedestrians were kind of stuck and the intersection was nearly blocked. She finally let off, but as soon as we all thought she saw the error of her ways, she started again. And then something magical happened. My building;’s security guard (wearing her uniform which looks deceivingly like the local police uniforms) came outside, walked into the street, leaned in the woman’s window (it was freakishly warm that day) and told her that she needs to “Cut that crap right now if she didn’t want to be hurt!” Not all heroes wear capes.

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  23. Lynn

    I used to fantasize about having an LED scrolling sign in my back window. When stuff like this happened, I’d be able to punch in a simple sentence or two on my dashboard – or maybe just dictate it, for safety – and it would appear in my back window as a scroll. It would be friendly and helpful but would communicate what I was doing to honkers and other angry types.

    But then I figured I’d probably just end up getting myself shot.

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    1. Amy

      This is a great idea! I have thought of large flash cards with useful (hopefully polite) phrases on them, but a scrolling marquis is even better and more visible!

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    2. Melissa Hunting

      YES, I TOO have wanted a scrolling sign. Pre-programmed with the most used phrases. I would absolutely be shot, but I would be RIGHT.

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    3. Heidi J

      YES. THIS. But I also came to sad conclusion that it probably wouldn’t actually help. Angry inconsiderate jerks don’t tend to like explanations.

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  24. Kirsty

    I don’t recommend that any of you apparently lovely Minnesotan people ever come here to the South of France… Honking in my native UK is also considered rude unless for absolute DANGER! EMERGENCY! situations. Here in Montpellier (and despite having lived here since 1992…), I’m still shocked at how easily drivers lean on their horns… it’s an instant, automatic reflex for any minor (perceived or real) grievance… Drives me insane. They (the drivers round here) also seem pathologically incapable of understanding that warning lights are for, you know, WARNING people of a similar type of danger or emergency. What they are NOT is an excuse to park anywhere you damn please. I don’t drive (thank GOD) and frequently get beyond annoyed by the drivers here… Cyclists are just as bad, but less dangerous (maybe) – the highway code appears to be optional, indicating which way you’re turning too… Grrr

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  25. Annabel

    I’m an overly cautious driver, I admit this! When pulling out though, often I will be just about to go, when someone honks to say I should have gone. It makes my car stall (in the UK, so car is stick shift) and then we are all stuck there for longer while I restart my car. Dickheads.

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  26. M.Amanda

    I just had a honking conversation with my 9yo. She told me her friend, an 11yo, thinks cars should come equipped with categorized horns – a friendly “Hi!” beep, a deep and extra loud “YOU JERK!” horn, and a third “Pay attention please” toot. Then I explained to her that honking is RUDE. You don’t need to honk hello or to express irritation. The horn is to draw attention in order to avoid an accident. Using it for other things dilutes the impact of the horn. If people start ignoring horns because they assume it’s another person saying hello to a friend, they won’t pay any attention when it’s someone telling them they are about to crash into another car. It’s an important safety feature, not a toy. Okay, so it was more of a lecture than a conversation. Honking really gets me riled.

    Six months ago, late night at work, leaving after 7pm, 3-lane highway on which the far right lane turns into an exit-only, turning the highway into 2 lanes, I put on my blinker to move left and check traffic. It’s clear as traffic is light at that time of night. I start to move over and hear BEEEEPPP!!! I swerve right again and see a car traveling at least 20 mph faster than the rest of traffic fly past me. It was the car I had seen during my traffic check in the far left lane, quite a ways back.

    I could brush it off as someone desperate to get to the hospital, but – crazily enough – I saw the same girl in the same Toyota driving the same way – and honked at another car for the same reason – the next week during morning rush hour. She just weaved in and out of traffic, never signaling, and just honked every time someone didn’t anticipate her crazy lane changes and get out of her way fast enough. I went to the bad place in my head and wished bad things on her. Sooo not acceptable horn use.

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  27. Heidi

    West Coast drivers have found a way to compound the “stopped at a green light” situation: The driver coming from the right will take the opportunity of my having left the intersection open to just go ahead and exercise his “right” to turn on red after stopping. NO NO, Nanette! I did not leave that space open for you, I left it open for me!! Those people deserve an extra pinch on the back of the arm.

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  28. Maggie

    I grew up and learned to drive in Boston where they should include a section in the Drivers’ Ed class called honking loudly while also cursing and flipping someone the bird. So I always thought it was totally normal for people to honk and scream invectives at the slightest provocation. Then 25 years ago I moved to Portland, Oregon and people here never beep. I mean NEVER unless someone’s life is practically at stake. I had some trouble adjusting to this new, nicer driving regime but I have adjusted and now I almost never beep and when people do beep it’s shocking so now I am hot about the beepers you described.

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  29. Teresa

    As a frequent pedestrian, I thank everyone who stops and endures the enraged beeping behind them. Just today, I was crossing at the intersection by my house, and multiple people beeped at the truck that was stopped for me to cross. It happens there all the time, never mind all the near misses when cars don’t stop. I’ve not gotten hit, thank goodness, but I’ve come very close to smacking a few car hoods and yelling “we’re walking here!”, Dustin Hoffman-style.

    At least the intersection is one where most of the cars that are likely to hit a pedestrian are turning and therefore slowing down. And there’s no good way for the impatient honkers to get around stopped cars to make that turn.

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  30. Lacey

    Yeeeeeeeees. Nothing plagues me after the fact more than bad honking drivers who act as though I am the stupid one. I’m sorry to see that this happens so often to so many of us, but on the other hand, MY PEOPLE!

    And yeah, pedestrian issues are totally scary, too. Last week I was shopping on my lunch hour, and walked out of the store to go back to my car. I had to walk across a fairly busy driveway (entrance/exit to an adjacent shopping center. My store was standalone on the edge of the larger parking lot.) which had a wide, CLEARLY marked crosswalk with speed bumps on either side. I got to the edge of the crosswalk, large pickup truck approaching, they slowed for the bump so I stepped out into the crosswalk. The fool waits until I am in the middle of the crosswalk and FLOORS it, then slams on brakes to avoid hitting me, giving me the death stare like I’m in his way. The worst part is that I stopped at a gas station a little while later and he was there (distinctive truck) and he was strutting around looking every bit as greasy and arrogant as I suspected. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

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  31. Sarah R.

    I think there are people out there who think we are the bad honkers, which infuriates me. Many intersections under freeways in Texas have a left turn only and a left or straight, your choice lane (as well as a just straight lane). The intersection near my house, however, just has a left turn only lane and two just straight lanes. This is clearly marked, multiple places. And yet. Pretty much every time we go through and try to turn left, from the Left turn only lane, someone to the right of us, in the STRAIGHT ONLY lane, is there, trying to turn left and acting as if we are the crazy ones swinging very wide on our left turns. The problem is that there is a shopping center that is basically an immediate right turn, so we have to turn left into the rightmost lane (which everyone wants to do, that’s why the lanes are marked that way). It might be safer to just treat that middle lane like a left optional lane and make a sharper turn, but then we have to make a basically immediate lane change, which is also not great (especially because the right lane now has a person in it who turned left when it was NOT Allowed OMG can you read. We have almost gotten hit by these idiots so many times, and I’m sure they just go on their way thinking that we are the idiots who don’t understand how intersections work. So infuriating. And dangerous.

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    1. Christy Wood

      That’s horrible design. We have a similar intersection near my home and the flow has been changed multiple times during the past 12 years. Some years, you could turn right from two lanes. Others, you could only turn right from the right lane. SO MANY ACCIDENTS. And while I wish that people would read lane markings and just follow them, I have finally realized that people don’t do that and probably never will. They drive as if the lane markings are what they expect them to be. And I now firmly believe that traffic engineers need to understand how people behave and design for that , instead of expecting people to understand the design and follow directions.

      Reply
  32. Alexicographer

    Oh dear. I live in a (mostly) low-honk area, and was thrilled the other day when on this narrow and annoying road at a must-get-to-work time, two pickup trucks pulling wood chippers were doing some complex pas-de-deux involving pulling in and out of driveways, backing up, turning around — blocking all other traffic going both directions. It was annoying (I needed to get to work!) but it was not urgent and — everyone, from each direction, was calmly pleasant about it (and while the trucks’ activities seemed odd, they were pretty clearly each trying to get to wherever they needed to be, in whatever direction they needed to be facing, in a context where they were unwieldy and the road/driveway positioning was difficult for them but they were, I assume, doing the best they could.).

    OTOH, in this same area my mother used to live near an intersection where a small neighborhood road crossed a busy two-lane street at an intersection with a stoplight. Going one direction in particular, virtually every car on the little road would turn right onto the big road, on red. But my mom would stop, because she needed to cross the road (i.e. to wait for the green light) and then would get honked at because the driver behind her couldn’t understand why she was stopped. at. a. red. light. And oh yes, she would in fact put on her parking brake and go tell them.

    A couple of years ago I was traveling in eastern Europe and was thrilled, THRILLED! at this widespread phenomenon whereby if there was a pedestrian approaching a crosswalk in a way that made it seem even merely plausible that said pedestrian might be contemplating crossing the street, oncoming traffic would pretty much SLAM on its brakes to stop IN CASE said pedestrian might cross. It was brilliant (and widely expected/practiced, so not problematic from the perspective of other drivers). Would that we could achieve that here.

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  33. Kristin H

    I can’t wait to read everyone else’s honking stories but first I must unburden myself of a similar honking story that I was JUST stewing about this morning.

    This past year I joined the board of a failing neighborhood swimming pool. MUCH work needed to be done last spring to get the pool in any shape to open again, and I was doing a lot of the work by myself. We were painting the place, which turned into a much bigger job that I realized. It was a Saturday and my third day spent painting, all day, and I had gone YET AGAIN to Sherwin Williams to get MORE paint. It was the end of the day, and I was tired. So tired. Truly exhausted.

    The intersection where I needed to pull out of the parking lot is one of those tricky ones; not for the faint of heart. People come at you from three ways and I needed to turn left to get out of there. It was around 5 in the afternoon and traffic was heavy. There was a guy behind me (because it’s ALWAYS a guy) who apparently forgot to pack his patience that day. And listen, maybe I was not being aggressive enough. You’ll just have to take my word for it that at this intersection, you need to be aggressive if you don’t want to spend a lot of time waiting. But here’s the thing: I was tired. My defenses were down. And I just wasn’t ready to risk life and limb my flooring it straight out of that parking lot and into traffic. I just wanted a little clearing. That’s all – just a little clearing to pull out safely.

    Mr. FastPants behind me started honking. And then honking some more. By now I’m feeling agitated as well as tired and maybe also a little like, screw you, I’ll go when I’m damn well ready to go. So he pulls the a-hole move and pulls out around me in order to go in FRONT of me and hurl himself into traffic. Fortunately, at that moment, I would also have gone because the light shone down upon us and LO, there was a lull in the traffic. I pulled out right behind him and got into the turn lane that he was trying to maneuver into and hey, I’m not advocating being a jerk in response to jerks, but I AM saying that it can be very satisfying to see someone get their comeuppance and be unable to continue their a-hole ways because of their own a-holeness.

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  34. Beth

    I am not a honker (I’m from the Midwest and now live in Canada, where if it were possible for horns to honk and then say “I’m sorry”, they would…), BUT, I make an exception for when other drivers are doing something that might be dangerous if they keep doing it. Case in point…it seems fairly common where I live for an entrance to a shopping area to almost immediately turn into a T-intersection, where the entering drivers DO NOT have to stop, but drivers from the left and right DO. Despite how common this configuration is, it astounds me how many drivers just…do not stop. I’m usually traveling at a slower rate of speed as I’ve just turned the corner into the shopping area, so they aren’t in any true danger from me, but I usually honk to let them know they’ve done something wrong/dangerous and to pay more attention next time.

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  35. Jean

    I feel your pain Swistle. If I’m honked at it takes me a couple days to recover. Although, or maybe it’s because, I’m also in Minnesota and it rarely happens. I have to tell you though, last summer there was major road construction that I had to drive through at least 4 times every day. A section that usually takes 5 minutes would now take 45 minutes. It became very painful and stressful and I started honking. It was horrible because every time I honked, I was in the wrong. So I vowed to never honk again. Until…a few weeks ago I was going to stop at a stop sign and lost control on the ice. I could tell that I was going to go flying out into 4 lanes of traffic so I laid on my horn. I saw the cars coming and they were able to stop in time, but I still don’t know how. I would have bet all my cash that I was going to get smashed. Maybe, just maybe, it was my horn.
    Except for times like that, I’m never honking again. I’m a reformed honker. Also a reformed saver of lost dogs. That might be a fun post?

    Reply
    1. rlbelle

      I hate being honked at, and in fact usually wait a good 20 seconds at a green light before tapping my horn to alert a distracted driver. So I was rather horrified to discover myself LEANING on my horn and swearing the other day because someone was trying to make a u-turn at an extremely crowded intersection – i.e., the left-turn arrow was green, the way had very properly been left clear for all left turners, myself included, but the oncoming traffic was so tight there was no possible way the person in front of me trying to make a u-turn into that oncoming traffic could possibly do it. So they just sat there, blocking the way for the rest of us wanting to turn left. It was legal, but the oncoming traffic was obviously not going to be letting up any time soon – couldn’t they just make the left turn and find a spot to turn around? Still, I felt horrible after honking, and like you vowed never to do it again.

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  36. Maureen

    I’ve loved reading these comments, and as an added benefit-I feel much more relaxed driving to work, after the one person talked about how little time you actually save going faster. I go through a tricky roundabout on the way to work, with people NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES, and being very careless. I am not a honker-and unless I am in danger of being hit, and even then-it is not my first instinct, I kind of fumble for the horn!

    In the early 90’s-I moved from the Chicago area to Anchorage. It might have changed, but I never felt like Chicago drivers were rude-they weren’t impatient, and I don’t remember being honked at for no reason. What blew me away, when I got to Anchorage-was how nice drivers were. Say I was at a grocery store, waiting to get out onto a main street-people would see me, slow down and wave me in front of them! I couldn’t believe it! Times change, but only today I was waiting to make a right hand turn out of a side street during rush hour, and a driver slowed way down and waved me out. I find that incredibly heartening!

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  37. rlbelle

    I get scared and angry at people who honk ragefully behind me, but when I’m in the right, I usually can accept that said honker is just an a-hole and get over it fairly quickly. Where I really stew and fret is when people honk to give me their opinion of how I should be driving – i.e., less cautiously. I have some fairly blind lefts, and even rights, on my regular route where many cars are parked along the side of the road. I also have a low-profile car and tend to inch out slowly until I’m absolutely sure I’m not going to get t-boned pulling out in front of someone. People just love to honk their opinion that I should being going already. Usually they are correct, but they are not in my driver’s seat and can’t see what I can’t see. It makes me crazy and pisses me off for hours.

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  38. Mim

    Swistle, I am convinced you will never ever run out of topics to blog about. Not only that, but you write about things that evoke a response from your readers. And not only that (part 2), they reply in somewhat the same style of writing that you use!

    Reply
  39. Clare

    I generally only honk if I have to actively brake and/or swerve to avoid hitting someone who has cut me off. However, we also have a charming local custom to honk (or toot as it’s known here) in a particular tunnel. Everyone somehow knows it’s okay to do it in that tunnel but wouldn’t dare in any other.

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  40. Ernie

    Started reading this post while waiting fo pick up a kid . . . just now getting back. People are just dumb in general. I recently pulled into a parking spot at the grocery store. The passenger door of the car next to me started to open and then closed. When I got out of my car the driver got out and called back into her passenger ‘and people can’t wait for an elderly person to get out of their car now.’ How was I supposed to know that her passenger was elderly. Just pulled in and got out. What the heck!!!

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  41. BKB

    Yesterday I did not start up fast enough at a green light for the guy behind me. It was about 1 second after the light turned green (my husband was in the car and he agrees that it had just turned green). I was in a left turn lane, with my left turn signal on. He honked and then immediately (as I was pulling out) pulled around me and turned left in front of me turning left. That’s what I think that people honk a lot are like. They’re so angry at other people that they think are doing the wrong thing that they do way worse and way more dangerous things as a kind of “f you”. It’s so scary!

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  42. Julia

    I think cars should not have horns, except possibly as part of automated accident-avoidance technology. In every situation where honking would have been warranted because of dangerous driving, I was too busy avoiding an accident to even think of using the horn until well after the fact. The screeching of my brakes had to serve in place of honking.

    Even if I do use the horn, it doesn’t serve any purpose. Several years ago my sister and I were leaving the library parking lot. We were stopped behind a line of cars waiting to get out, still well within the area with parking spots on both sides. A driver in one of the spots next to us put her car into reverse (back-up lights came on). My sister honked: “yo, there’s someone here!”. Driver hit the brakes. Our sigh of relief was premature, however: after a few seconds, the driver got off the brakes and backed straight into us. Luckily there just wasn’t enough room to get up any speed, so no real damage, but to this day I can’t understand: where did she think she was going? What did she think that honk was for? My conclusion: the existence of the horn is pointless. People will go on doing what they were doing regardless of the sounds generated from outside their vehicles. (Or worse: they’ll go on doing what they were doing, but more aggressively, because now they’re peeved.)

    When the local buses switched to those red LED signs, it was right around the same time that I started seeing LED third brakelights on cars, and I started musing about programmable messages: “back off!”, “Caution: pedestrian”, etc. Given how many people have had the same thought, I’m surprised nobody has implemented it (to my knowledge). (Unfortunately, I don’t think there would be room for my favorite mantra: the closer you get, the slower I go.)

    Reply

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