Poll: Horn Honking

This poll is a follow-up to the discussion under yesterday’s “Quiet Killers?” post. Please read the comment thread before voting.

How do you feel about drivers of quiet vehicles tapping their horns to announce their approach?

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40 Responses to “Poll: Horn Honking”

  • Apertome says:

    I never know what people are trying to communicate by honking, but usually it comes across as a “get off the road!” type gesture. I don’t like it.

  • Tal Danzig says:

    In general, I feel that horns should be used in emergencies: i.e. to prevent collisions.

  • Nick says:

    Honks only ever sound rude. It just isn’t a nice sound. I suspect many pedestrians think the same thing about bicycle bells.

  • cloudsofviolet says:

    Don’t think they should honk, it usually comes off as agressive. If people need to pass, they should do like they do with cars – wait until there is room

  • Simon Kellett says:

    AFAIK, in German and UK law at least, the horn is only to be used as a warning of your presence. However it is too often used in aggression (e.g. get off *my* road). So I think that is how most people interpret it.

    (I find the same to be true even of a bike bell on a cycle path: most people seem to think I mean ‘get out of my way’ even if it is just a friendly ping to mean “do not wander into the cycle path” ! (I often try just a loud cough or something !!).)

  • Mumbreeze says:

    I don’t like being honked at, but I don’t like the idea of a silent car approaching from behind either. I think they should either make a detectable noise or a honk that is not as startling. The sound that street cars make gets my attention, but doesn’t startle me like a normal car honk.

  • martian1 says:

    A horn honk usually startles me, even when I hear the vehicle coming.
    More and more vehicles of all sizes and types are getting quieter [nice], even large trucks.
    A car/truck horn is intended to warn primarily the driver of another car/truck, who probably
    has the windows rolled up, radio/cellphone/ipod on ,etc. – the horn is much louder than it
    needs to be to alert pedestrians or cyclists. An audio “pedestrian/cyclist” alert signal could be
    a balance between warning me and scaring me.

  • Ian says:

    I don’t mind the occasional light tap on the horn to make sure I know a car is there, however I never understood why cars have only one kind of horn…

    Why not have one happy sound for “hello”, “see you later” and “just letting you know I’m here” as well as the angry sound for “look out!”, “do not change lanes into me!” and “your vehicle is too large/smelly/offensive/tasteless and if you’d been paying attention you may have noticed that you very nearly killed me/yourself/someone else”.

    Most car drivers could probably cope with an extra button. One could have a happy face on it and the other an angry face to make things simple…

  • John says:

    I agree about pedestrians not liking bells. In my experience they absolutely do not understand what it means, even though the paths are clearly marked as shared and come with simple illustrated instructions – peds keep to left, bikes ring when approaching. I always follow my deliberately cute sounding bell with a friendly wave and smile. Their faces go from confusion/anger/fear to calm serenity!

    About quieter cars – this relates to another discussion I’ve been reading on an ozzie forum. Over here Cyclists are very gung ho about other people on bikes wearing helmets and not listening to ipods. Safety First And You Didn’t Think This Was Meant To Be Fun Did You? Anyway, my thought is, if you completely lost your hearing would you stop riding? I listen to my ipod but then I do stick to the side streets and paths. I check my mirror as much as a driver (should) and feel safe and relaxed.

  • David says:

    I use a Honka Hoota for a friendlier note when approaching pedestrians from the rear on shared use paths and will give a tap on the Air Zound from a distance.

    There was the woman running while pushing a baby jogger stroller. She was all over the shared use path and oblivious to anyone approaching from the rear because of her head phones.
    I sounded the Honka Hoota,them tapped the Air Zound. I gave a heavier tap on the Air Zound to no avail. He music was so loud that I could hear it from 20 feet away.

    I finally slowed my approach and carefully reached out and tapped her on the shoulder.
    She jumped and then cursed me up one side and then the other.

    Personally I think head phones have there place but it’s not out on the road or path ways. Perhaps just one speaker in one ear and leave the other ear to listen to what’s going on around you.

    In traffic I use my Air Zound quite a bit as needed but then again when I’m on the road either solo or with one or both of my kids on tandem or triplet we are the brightest, most reflective vehicle on the road, day or night.

  • townmouse says:

    The answer’s easy – hybrids/electrics should have bells!

  • 2whls3spds says:

    Years ago I had a French car that had two horns on it, it had the beep, beep horn for “town” use and a blaring set of air horns for “road” use. In fact IIRC the switch was labeled Route and Ville.

    I don’t mind a light tap on the horn from a ways back as a signal that they are back there. In fact if they do I will give a wave of the hand to acknowledge it. It lets me know they are A) paying attention and B) concerned enough to let me know.

    I don’t appreciate the jackass that blows the horn with the attitude, in fact he is likely to get a one finger salute and a boot in the door.


  • DeltaTrike says:

    From behind, the horn – even the more polite double tap, may sound rude, but it is the type of pass and the hand gesture associated with it that tell the tale: Short Horn, wide & steady pass with a friendly wave or Long Horn Blast, close NASCAR-like pass and the Bird. I am not so sure about the pedestrians. It seems like most appreciate the warning. I know little kids giggle at the bell and I have seem a fair share of adult smiles from the “ting”. Sorry, I can’t fault the Hybrids for their quietness.

  • David says:

    In regards to horns and bells.

    I work in a bike shop on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.

    A young man came in one day a few years back and wanted to buy a very fancy cruiser bike with a chromed springer fork, flowing lines, wide tires, wide seat and a 4 speed internal rear hub.

    While I was checking the psi on the tires and giving a last minute buffing he is out on the show room checking out the different bells. He comes back to my work area and hands me 4 different bells and asks that they be installed in a certain 1 2 3 4 row.

    It’s all done and he’s about to leave when he starts to play a song on those bells. It was very cool and a delight to listen to.

    After he leaves the boss asks me if I know who he was. I didn’t have a clue. His name is Ben Taylor and he’s the son of a certain James and Carley, both famous musicians in their own right……(-;

  • random ray says:

    I think the two horns in a car is a good idea . I like to be warned but a loud horn can surprise me . I haven’t had a problem with a bell and pedestrians , I start well back from them and it really is safer not to surprise dogs .

  • dukiebiddle says:

    I don’t know. I know sometimes their heart is in the right place. I’ve even experienced the the light tap from cars still 100 feet behind, which I know is meant to be thoughtful. Still, it’s always startling. I’m a grown up. When I ride on the street I’m smart enough to keep a straight line. Sometimes it feels as though they assume that since I’m riding a bike instead of a car, I must be a simpleton incapable of getting a license, therefore it is best to assume that I have the common sense of a 7 year-old.

    Also, it is nearly impossible to differentiate between the thoughtful tap and the douchebag who hates me for being on the road. They usually sound exactly alike.

  • cb says:

    If all the Prius drivers would just turn their NPR up extra loud, and crack their windows a little bit, we’d all be able to hear ‘em coming!

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “If all the Prius drivers would just turn their NPR up extra loud, and crack their windows a little bit,”

    Ha! Only problem with that is whenever I hear Terry Gross’ voice, I want to throw myself in front of the car. But, the cracked window is a good idea; that way you can smell the waft of smug self-satisfaction.

  • Julie says:

    Love the NPR idea!

  • Jim says:

    I think a honking driver might be a distracting driver, and a startle reaction could be a bad think on the part of a surprised cyclist. I think that our all-powerful and overarching government ought to mandate that all quiet vehicles incorporate noisemakers emulating engine noise, and that they also mandate that the vehicles smell like conventional vehicles as well, emitting noxious gases produced by virtual cattle.

  • bongobike says:

    Well, according to the poll and the opinions expressed here, I seem to be in the minority. I like a friendly tap of the horn in situations where it might be difficult to detect the presence of a car coming up from behind, or if I space out and stray too far into the middle of the road, etc.

    I really don’t understand how some people can’t tell the difference between an angry horn blow and a friendly warning. A couple of light taps are very different from a long lean on the horn–pretty obvious to me. Many people I know will tap on the horn to call your attention and wave when they see you on the street.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    “I really don’t understand how some people can’t tell the difference between an angry horn blow and a friendly warning. A couple of light taps are very different from a long lean on the horn–pretty obvious to me.”

    I think we can all tell the difference between and expressive friendly horn tap and a hateful horn lean. The issue is that 90% of drivers just honk, without that honk being demonstrably one or the other.

  • I pod less says:

    If a car has tires it makes noise when it rolls.

  • s0fa says:

    Like “toot! toot! i’m behind you”? Great. Thanks for the heads up.

    Leaning on the horn with both elbows, passing way too close and giving me the finger is a pretty good way to get me to spit in your face through the open window at the next intersection that I will catch you at.

  • bongobike says:


    First you say: “Also, it is nearly impossible to differentiate between the thoughtful tap and the douchebag who hates me for being on the road. They usually sound exactly alike.”

    Then in response to my comment, you say: “I think we can all tell the difference between and expressive friendly horn tap and a hateful horn lean.”

    So which one is it?

  • dukiebiddle says:

    bongobike, it is the continuation of the second comment that you chose not quote to feign ambivalence. I can tell the difference when the driver opts to express the difference. If the driver does not, which they usually do not, I have no way of knowing their intent.

  • bongobike says:

    I see…

  • Geoff says:

    When my bride and I biked across southern Sweden on our honeymoon, we were riding a Bike Friday “Two’sDay” tandem and pulling a trailer. We rode several of the “Sverigeleden” national bike trail segments between cities. Our riding gear included sunglass temple-mounted rear-view mirrors (which I think should be standard equipment for EVERY biker) to maintain a constant scanning awareness of what’s approaching from behind on a continuing basis. The trail segments we rode generally were signed and routed on paved back roads not frequented by cars, so that was a blessing. Part of her job as the stoker was to periodically scan our “6” to watch for traffice and then alert me with a “car-back!”, because my attention was focused almost constantly on the road ahead. Most of the cars that passed us simply gave a very light “toot” on their horns, from a comfortable distance behind, to make us aware of their presence, then went around us clear in the second (opposing) lane of traffic to give us a wide berth, and waved a friendly greeting as they went by. That to us seemed the ultimate in safety, fairness and courtesy. Virtually every vehicle that passed us demonstrated safety and great courtesy, making Sweden a joy to ride through.
    This question regards “quiet cars” like the Toyota “Pruis” and Honda hybrid gas-electric models. And there are many more hybrids slated for future introduction on our roads, so this will be an increasing challenge to riders. Some of these vehicles will be totally electric, and thus virtually ‘silent’, except for tire noise on the pavement. I think a very light “toot” (NOT a BLAST) on the horn of a quiet, hybrid-type car would be an okay way to alert a biker ahead of the auto’s presence…but it should be sounded at least 50 yards distant so as not to startle the bike rider. Having an alternative warning device, like ‘chimes’, or some musical tones (and separate “courtesy horn button” on the steering wheel to sound them) may become a ‘standard equipment’ item provided by auto-makers as the array of vehicles in the traffic mix continues to broaden with bikes, trikes, mothers with baby strollers, and little old ladies being led across intersections by Boy Scouts. Having a separate and more ‘congenial’ warning device makes a LOT of sense and could make us a “kinder, gentler nation.” Many auto parts stores carry such after-market ‘alternative’ warning devices that can be installed fairly easily in the family auto. But please don’t get the one that plays “Dixie” from an electronic speaker mounted in your engine compartment!

  • bongobike says:

    Geoff wrote:

    “But please don’t get the one that plays “Dixie” from an electronic speaker mounted in your engine compartment!”

    I prefer “La Cucaracha”.

  • The Opoponax says:

    It’s not so much that horns startle me, so much as that I was taught that we only use horns in emergencies, to warn others of extreme unavoidable danger. A car behind me on the street is neither, and a car that honks when everything is perfectly safe is confusing and unnecessarily stressful.

    Furthermore, I see no reason for drivers to need to warn cyclists of their presence. If you intend to pass me, you can do so if space allows – I’m used to being passed by traffic on the street and don’t need a special warning. If there is no room to pass, slow down and stay a safe distance behind me until it is safe to pass.

    If you are concerned that, due to the silence of your vehicle, I might jab an elbow into your mirror, please remember not to follow too close or crowd cyclists on streets too narrow for cyclists and drivers to ride abreast.

    If you notice that I’m leaving the bike lane to pass a double-parked car and don’t seem to see you, please slow down to avoid hitting me. If doing so would cause an accident with other cars on the road, then and only then is it a good idea for you to honk. In this situation you’re not honking to announce your presence, you’re honking to inform me of an imminent emergency.

  • ToddBS says:

    “If you are concerned that, due to the silence of your vehicle, I might jab an elbow into your mirror, please remember not to follow too close or crowd cyclists on streets too narrow for cyclists and drivers to ride abreast. “

    This is my feelings on it as well. If you are close enough to worry about me not noticing you and swerving into you at low speeds, then you’re too close to me regardless of what type of vehicle you have. At higher speeds, I’m going to hear your tire noise long before your engine noise anyway so it doesn’t matter there.

    As for wearing headphones, here in Florida it’s illegal to operate any vehicle on a roadway while wearing any type of listening device other than a hearing aid. Technically I don’t think you’re even allowed to do it on a MUP, but I’ll stop at the roadway. That’s not to say it isn’t done, but they shouldn’t be doing it and any “serious” cyclist who is riding his bike for transportation should be well aware of that. In the case of that person, lay on your horn all you want to teach him a lesson ;-)

  • clever-title says:

    I agree with the calls for multiple horns or a bell for cars to just announce your presence, rather than blasting someone off the road.

    Maybe a horn button that responds with a toot (or La Cucaracha) to a light tap and a full emergency horn for a harder press.

    I think I’m going to get ice-cream man bells if I ever have an electric car.

  • Perry says:

    I voted “I don’t mind under certain circumstances” but I do believe that noise pollution is a serious problem, so I prefer people use the horn quite judiciously—and indeed that’s what I do when I drive. That said, most American drivers (some city drivers are an exception) have no idea how use the horn. They lean on it like they are trying to summon Homeland Security to round up terrorists…no matter what the situation. There is a big honking (pun intended) difference between “on your left” and “I am about turn you into a pancake because you just ran a red light, IDIOT.” Most drivers can’t seem to figure that out. It’s all out red alert no matter what the situation.

  • Perry says:

    I really should have added that I don’t think it’s necessary (I have mirrors and I see you) and it could be confusing to the rider but I cut drivers some slack in that they may not feel comfortable passing (for whatever reason) unless they use the horn. Situations do vary. My points about most drivers not knowing how to properly use the horn still apply.

  • The Opoponax says:

    “I cut drivers some slack in that they may not feel comfortable passing (for whatever reason) unless they use the horn.”

    I don’t really understand this (the drivers, I mean) – do they honk every time they pass another car? Do they think that I didn’t know that cars also use this street? Do they think they are the first car ever to pass me?

    I guess I can kind of understand the mentality that maybe since cars are so enclosed, drivers don’t realize how much we use the sounds around us to navigate and how subtle that is. And I definitely get that well-meaning drivers want to somehow convey that they see us and are trying to respect us on the road. But it just seems so self-serving to me. I kind of want to stop them at the next light and reassure them that I don’t think they are evil democracy hating polluters.

  • Perry says:

    @ Opoponax: Where I ride, I am almost never the recipient of honk to pass me but once in a great while it happens. It is usually a nervous driver with a death grip on the steering wheel. It’s as though they think I couldn’t possibly know or guess that they are behind me and that they expect me to swerve onto the road for no apparent reason. I really don’t understand the mentality but it does occur (if only rarely) and I just let it roll off me.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    I think a bicycle bell and a car horn are two different things. Bicycles are small and unmotorised, and can therefore be used in a more carefree, cheerful way than cars can. A bicycle bell can reasonably be used in a friendly way on a bicycle path to alert pedestrians or other cyclists.

    I can’t see how a car horn can be friendly in the same way as a bicycle bell can. The fact of the matter is that a car is a 1000-kg killer monster while the cyclist is at worst a 100 kg klutz. There’s no way a thousand kilo monster can sound unthreatening or unstartling. Even if it’s a Prius.

    Or think of it this way. If an enormous truck honks at you, does that make a bigger impression than if a small two-seater car does it? Or if you turn the corner and see a jumbo jet sounding some kind of supersonic-yet-friendly horn. Does that make you feel nice and calm?

  • David says:

    Recently in the local paper there was a letter to the editor from a motorist about cyclists. The writer was complaining about cyclists riding on the roads here on Martha’s Vineyard and how he has taken it upon himself to honk and gesture at the cyclists to get them off the road for their own safety.

    From touching bases with the cycling community here on the Island there were quite a few responses to this fellows letter but the paper only printed one from a cyclist, a commuter who rides from one end of the Island to the other and then back again in the evening. Close to 40 miles a day. He basically told the guy to mind his own business and bone up on the laws, the rights of cyclists out on the road. The original letter writer in turn wrote second letter in response with even more of his inane blather.

    The guy is a freaking idiot.

    It is just way to easy for a person to get a drivers license in the United States.

  • Tinker says:

    As a recent convert from motorcycle riding, to bicycle riding, I have not adjusted to the Lack of horns on bikes to let dunderheads know that I am IN THE LANE AND IN FULL VIEW, and I would appreciate it if they took advantage of the opportunity to view me, before running me down. As a motorcyclist, I took advantage of the twelve volts available to make my horn as obnoxious as possible, converting the horn on every motorcycle I rode to something loud enough to hear through the windows, air conditioning, and Barry Manilow/John Denver playing, so that as the idiot in the lane next to me, eases over, I could blow him back to the rock he crawled from under. Sorry, I am only emitting 80 decibels on my motorcycle, and you can’t hear me. CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW, dolt?

    So, I suppose I will attempt to use an Airzound, but don’t expect it to do much, as the quietest horns I used were Fiamms.

  • David says:

    Hey Tinker

    The Air Zound works just dandy. I’ve gone through intersections blasting that horn in mid summer where every driver as you say has the AC on and the radio blaring.

    The first thing I did with my Air Zound is to swap out the bottle-air tank for a one liter coke bottle. Same threads as the Air Zound bottle but so much bigger.

    The Air Zound is rated at 115 decibels. All I can say is that it is very loud. Louder than any car horn I’ve heard so far.
    I run Air Zounds on my tandem and triplet and will be looking at mounting one on my velomobile with a remote horn button.

    My mantra is to be obnoxiously bright and if need be obnoxiously loud.

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