Two-way horn that’s audible to drivers: Can it tackle habitual honkers?

A recent news report stated that the Karnataka government has notified amendments to some sections of the Karnataka Motor Vehicles Act. These amendments make way for a steep hike in the fines to be collected for incessant honking. The proposed fines are Rs. 1000 for the first offence and Rs. 2,000 for subsequent violations.

This is not the first such initiative. The Bangalore Traffic Police (BTP) launched the ‘No-honking Monday’ campaign long back. BTP had also roped in popular and respected faces of the city like Rahul Dravid to strengthen this campaign. BTP has engaged in this rhetoric of no-honking on social media as well. However, the effect of this initiative has, at best been only marginal.

Going one step further, the government has now decided to make the monetary costs prohibitive for the offenders. The government hopes that such prohibitive fines will make people refrain from altering horns, and silencers and dis-incentivise others from blaring horns every few metres on the road. Though a step in the right direction, this will not be able to achieve the objective of lowering sound levels on our roads for three reasons.

Pic courtesy: Malleshwaram Swabhimana Initiative

What is loud horn and incessant noise?

First, determining what is a ‘loud horn’ and what is ‘an incessant noise’ is inherently subjective. Many vehicle users deem it perfectly fit to honk repeatedly. Even a steep hike in fines will do nothing to change the predisposition of the average Indian driver, which is to use the horn as an object to reduce his/her on-road anxiety — much like an office desk stress ball.

The horn is imagined by many as a magic wand that can dissolve traffic away. To others, it is a musical instrument, to be played and enjoyed even when there are no obstructions in near vicinity. Increased fines along with effective enforcement may help reign in those who alter their horns or silencers, but it will do nothing to those vehicle users who consider the horn an appendage of their on-road personality.

Catching the offenders

Second, the success of this initiative is heavily dependent on the ability of the Bangalore traffic police to catch and fine the rule offenders. The BTP is already tasked with so many other duties that adding another task is sure to cause slip-ups on other ends.

Already, the Bangalore traffic officer is torn between the tasks of managing the traffic signal effectively for faster vehicular movement and preventing people from breaking traffic rules for better road safety. In such a scenario, expecting effective enforcement of the new rule seems to be wishful thinking. The objective of reducing the noise levels will still remain a few steps away.

Economics of honking

Third, the basic law of economics states that a rational person makes a choice by comparing the costs and benefits associated with it. If the marginal benefits of picking an alternative exceed the marginal costs, that alternative is picked. It is relevant in the current context because the marginal costs currently are too low for the offenders to force them to give up the benefit experienced by pressing the easily accessible horn button. As outlined in the reasons above, raising monetary costs alone will not be able to help.

Raise the emotional cost of honking

What then, are the other ways that can help reduce honking? One way is to think beyond fines and instead increase the emotional costs for the offenders. This can be done, for example, by installation of horns that channel a portion of the sound they generate towards the vehicle users themselves.

Currently, the users are practically shielded from the noise pollution because the design is such that the sound is amplified and expelled outwards. If, on the other hand, if a blaring horn also causes discomfort to the user’s ears, it will make him/her think twice before launching a noise assault on other road users, particularly the unarmed pedestrians.

Though the design of such a system is simple and costs not high, it is natural that no vehicle maker will be interested in incorporating this for the fear of turning away possible customers. And this is where governments can step in. The Union government can create noise guidelines on the lines of the Bharat Stage emission standards. Such vehicular noise guidelines with broad specifications for horns that feed back to the user will help bring down noise levels.

Along with the existing initiatives, this step of increasing emotional costs can make our urban public spaces sane and peaceful. Ideally, a society that is more empathetic towards others will not need such government interventions. But until we reach that enlightened state, we need our governments and our people to collectively tackle this social evil of urban noise pollution.

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About Pranay Kotasthane 0 Articles
Pranay Kotasthane is a policy analyst with the Takshashila Institution, an independent and networked think tank of public policy.

6 Comments

  1. I had the pleasure of driving in Delhi for almost 25 years and the traffic to a great extent was sensible unlike Bangalore. I am a senior citizen and I find none following traffic rules in Bangalore – more so, the younger generation. You are considered a fool if you go by book rules. On one occasion, when I told a young lady not to overtake on the left, she was pretty rude. It is absolutely necessary that all driving licence holders be trained on ‘Road Safety’. I often pity traffic police who devote so much time untiringly to streamline traffic. If we don’t change our attitude, no one can save traffic woes in Bangalore.

  2. In many cities in India, municipalities have madatorily installed low capacity ‘Air Horn’ or ‘Manual Trumpet’ for all the heavy vehicles (especially state-run).
    The reduction in noise is tremendous and since people realize that a meek trumpet means a heavy vehicle, buses mange to communicate equally efficiently in traffic.
    (I have seen this in Pune). Works really well.

  3. I thought it was mandatory to honk, and bigger vehicles and newer vehicles must have louder horns to warn people of consequences they would face proportionate to the cost of the vehicle.and the power of the owner. It must also be something to do with education and status because I hear incessant honking for no reason near a highly regarded school when parents come to drop off their kids. Or maybe it is some sort of mating call of the frogs of society?

  4. Horning on roads has reached alarming levels in Bangalore. It has become a menace not only on busy roads but even on the bylanes and sublanes of residential areas. It is causing unimaginable inconvenience to citizens particularly kids and senior citizens.

    I’m a regular road user myself. I face this problem everyday while commuting to office and back. On other side of story, horning becomes inevitable however sensitive and sensible one may be because of dangerous driving habits of other road users. This particularly applies when others crisscrosses the road, try to overtake from the wrong side, trying to squeeze thro the traffic signals etc…

    This is a serious problem. But I don’t think punishing or putting fine for using horns will be a practical idea. One it is practically impossible for the police to man every driver on road. Second it’ll invariably increases the corruption level.

    Sensitizing people and making them aware of the inconveniences it causes to the fellow citizens is the only practical option. This approach will take a long time but surely will pay off in the long term.

    Another approach would be to include “road sense” as a curriculum in schools which will help kids to inculcate good road habits from early childhood.

  5. Someone in Mumbai has come up with a gadget which beeps inside when a driver honks more than 3 times in a short interval. To turn off the beep the driver has to press a button. This makes the driver conscious of how often he/she is honking and perhaps goes some way towards reducing the impulse to honk.

  6. I really wish they can curb this. It would also require a slew of other crackdowns.
    Simple things like mandating that all vehicles – 2, 3 or 4 wheelers should have rear-view/side-view mirrors, lane discipline, especially when it comes to crawling on the right side of the road, requiring usage of indicators while turning etc.
    Most of the time honking becomes a defensive mechanism to announce your presence to other drivers and slowly it becomes addictive. Have seen extreme cases where at 12 in the night, people honk the moment they see a 4 way crossing, even in a quiet residential area. The menace has reached crazy levels!

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