Controversy is swirling around legislation proposed in Rhode Island to ban, as the Providence Journal described it, “horn-honking deemed unnecessary.” This move to punish heavy-handed hooters and tooters has forced me to renounce my vow to not incriminate my wife and testify that she is a harsh honker.
She lays on the horn when drivers cut her off or appear to be texting or driving. If she is particularly annoyed with an offending motorist, she will up the ante by flashing her lights while hitting the horn.
To be fair, she is a member in good standing of an international subpopulation of horn-dependent drivers. If you’ve ever visited Rome or Mexico City, your initial impression is that local motoring laws require drivers to honk several times every minute.
According to the Journal story, no honking “to make an unreasonably loud or harsh sound” would be allowed in The Ocean State, if the legislation is approved, and honking at bicyclists would be forbidden unless a crash is imminent.
The legislation has raised a red flag with the American Civil Liberties Union with the First Amendment watch group citing a Washington law struck down in 2011 because a broadly-worded honking ban would interfere with what I will call celebratory honking — you know, the kind people do when teams win championships or favorite politicians get elected.
For my part, and in keeping with what my wife describes as my status as the youngest 90-year-old on the road, I sparingly honk and value my teeth too much to dare flash my lights at an offending fellow motorist.
I think back with fondness to the used Peugeot sedan Rich Colucci sold me 25 years ago that had the horn built into the turning signal — proof that the French consider it mandatory to honk when turning.
The push to ban harsh honkers in the tiny state to our south made me contemplate reasons why horns were installed in combustion engine conveyances in the first place. The first drivers had to find a way to survive in a world dominated by horses — horses galloping along with riders on their backs; horses clattering along pulling carriages; and big horses (think Budweiser ads) plodding along hauling freight wagons.
Cars were a freakish addition to the equine-powered world and they were probably treated accordingly. It’s my uneducated guess that manufacturers installed horns to help hapless drivers summon other travelers when their “flivver” got upended in a ditch, or when the new-fangled contraption — unlike an animal capable of unlimited mileage contingent on proper shodding and the availability of water, hay or oats — ran out of gas.
There are subjects married couples tread lightly on with their spouses, and the reasons behind my wife’s heavy horn hand is on my “let-it-lie” list. She is a planner and organizer at heart and I think, deep in her soul, it pains her to know other drivers aren’t getting with the program when it comes to the rules of the road, or worse, endangering the rest of us.
On rare occasions, she has gone beyond honking to communicate her viewpoint, including the memorable time early in our relationship when she got out of her car at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel, intent on confronting another driver while I crawled into the glove compartment.
I think technology will ultimately make the horn obsolete and cars will become electric-powered, self-driving technology equipped with an array of computerized sensors and warning systems, including a transmitter that sends messages to other drivers.
I wonder if the manufacturers will give us the option of picking the pithy remarks we want uploaded onto the transmitter and will we have to pay more to upgrade to profanity?