The horns of a dilemma

19:00, Mar 25 2013

Car horns are designed to be loud enough to pierce any background noise and grab attention immediately. On New Zealand roads prolonged tooting at another motorist can sometimes put you at risk of a road rage pursuit or attack, so we Kiwis tend to be conservative and restrained in how we use them in traffic.

A Kiwi driving in France or Italy for the first time is usually taken aback by the sheer volume of horn use in the cities. As soon as a traffic light turns green in Paris the horns start honking but because it's so routine, nobody takes it personally or gets upset.

New York is also known for carefree horn blowing, mainly by the predominant vehicles on its streets, the taxis. The local government tried to cure the problem by passing laws and fining drivers $350 if they were caught honking indiscriminately, all to no avail. Taxi drivers simply paid the fines and ignored the ruling. Lawmakers have now accepted it's an immutable part of the New York culture and have returned to the status quo.

My last two New Zealand homes have been in tightly packed suburban neighbourhoods, close to the street - so we have been affected by that delightfully thoughtful species, the suburban tooter. Neighbours are residents who rely on someone else picking them up for work early in the morning. Their driver arrives and gives several blasts on the horn to let the entire peacefully slumbering neighbourhood know they are waiting outside.

Equally insensitive are night visitors to our streets who insist on a cheery set of toots as they leave regardless of what time of the night (or morning) it might be.  Having done a short stint of night shift work at one stage and craving a good day's sleep, I can sympathise with people who fleetingly entertain the idea of confronting noisy motorists.  Similar murderous thoughts must go through the minds of exhausted parents who have just got their fractious baby to sleep.

If you regularly go to bed early, does mindless use of the car horn at night get to you, or am I being a bit precious about suburban peace and tranquillity? Is horn honking at inappropriate times something we should just passively accept as part of the background noise?