Culturally based horn-iness

Looking south above Interstate 80, the Eastsho...
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Disclaimer: gross generalization in 3….2….1….

During my travels abroad to Europe and Asia recently, it became quite apparent that there is a significant difference between how these regions use their vehicle horns as opposed to in America. A fact that others have also noticed.

Basically it boils down to proactive vs. reactive usage.

For example, due to switch back roads, blind intersections or other areas of low visibility, Eurasians would tend to toot the horn to notify anyone they may encounter of their presence. I don’t mean to say they are perfect drivers, as horns there are also used to alert drivers and pedestrians when driving erratically or switching lanes, however, done so in an instructional manner.

Contrast that with a typical US driver who will race through said low visibility area and demand the right of way. Or envision the daily commute to the office where a horn is quite often accompanied by middle digits of the hand, arm motions, choice 4-letter words, and other rages of the road. The horn’s main use is reactive in that it’s to make other spectator drivers aware of another drivers infraction.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of RHU (reactive horn usage), but PHU is in my bag of tricks as well.

Why, as a society, are we not more forgiving? Why isn’t the expectation that the horn is a nice way to warn you, instead of an admonishment of vehicular sins? Are we just overly stressed?

Obviously, length and tone of the horn note make a huge difference in how the message comes across, just as it does in everyday face to face conversation. Should car manufacturers take this into account in their designs?

Give it enough time and someone will find a solution (Beam me up Scotty!). Until then, try to keep your cool.

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One thought on “Culturally based horn-iness

  1. Tim,

    While driving in Beijing with a friend we discussed this use of horns – especially on highways. He comes from Beijing but currently lives and drives in the US so has experience with both approaches. His comment was that the US driving culture is based on the driver providing notice of his intended actions to cars behind. The Chinese driver provides notice to the cars in front.

    The former allows for the use of visual clues – such as turn signals – because drivers behind him can see the indicator in front of them and act accordingly. The latter requires a sound clue – a horn being the only one available except for shouting – because drivers in front can’t risk taking their eyes off the hectic traffic on front of them even for the seconds it would take to look for rearward visual clues in rear/side view mirrors or – god forbid – looking over their shoulder.

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