Many of us take our car horn for granted. Comforted by the fact that when in need, it’ll be there. What most neglect is the sheer power of the horn to allow drivers the ability to communicate with others. The language of the road is simple, yet emphatic. Here’s a brief look at our complicated relationship with horns and honking:

Horn History

Horns are found on trains, ships, bicycles, and to the musically adventurous, even a few orchestra pits. But the first “car horns” were not inside cars at all. They were used by prudent British pedestrians to alert oncoming vehicles. It didn’t take a huge leap in imagination for horns to move inside the car as driving increased in popularity.


Some of us honk out of frustration, while others lay on the horn to prevent accidents or warn other drivers. People honk at perceived, actual and potential roadside threats. Others honk when seeing a long lost pal on a street corner. A few old fashioned folks favor two short beeps as a final farewell when departing the home of a friend or relative. And there are honks to convey exaltation as well. This last one often occurs following important sporting events. It’s a great way to express joy while exiting a congested parking lot.

Strange Prohibition

Beginning in the 1980s, New York City posted signs indicating a $350 fine for honking in certain areas. Some suggested it was an attempt to curb noise pollution. But in 2013, the city began removing the signs and lifting the ban. Critics saw the effort against honking as a wholly futile one. With all this noise, it’s a little harder to catch some shuteye in the city that never sleeps.