From the Comments: Lay Off the Fake Car Horns


In response to our post about our Prius/”conspicuous conservation” podcast, a reader named Fred writes in to say:

If you did an analysis on your listenership, I’m pretty sure you’d find, in common with most podcasts, that consumers of audio are more likely than not mobile. Old time radio’s image of the rocking chair next to a wireless the size of a substantial piece of furniture is outdated. With podcasts especially, people are more likely to strap on their choice of pod, and listen whilst jogging, StairMastering, cycling, commuting –- it’s a very mobile listenership.

Most podcasters realised this, and when talking travel, transport or cars in particular do not use the hackneyed, clichéed, passé and superfluous sound of a car horn. For the reason that it is unmuffled by earbuds or car windows, it comes directly into the ear and announces forcibly that you are jogging or cycling into danger.

I was cycling down the east coast of Thailand, on a straight, flat road, palm trees swinging ever-so-gently, the Gulf of Thailand just to my left, sparkling delightfully just beyond the white beach to my left, just hit a nice rhythm, got into top gear and was pretty much in the zone. My iPod was playing the “Hey Baby, Is That a Prius You’re Driving?” episode, interested in the “conspicuous conservation” concept –- when your podcast had a completely unnecessary car horn blast that shattered my peace, and very nearly shocked me into an accident. Fuck you. Don’t do that.

To which a reader named MattNYC replies:

Uh, Fred…

You’re not supposed to wear headphones –- certainly not both –- when riding. What if that horn had been real? Or a car (a nice super- quiet Prius) was behind you and you had no idea because you were oblivious to anything else?

I have to say, I see both arguments as valid. Good feedback all around. And, FWIW, the U.S. may require electric-car manufacturers to make their quiet engines noisier so that hearing-impaired pedestrians (and headphone-wearing cyclists, like Fred) will know they’re coming.


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  1. Adam says:

    As someone who’s spent his entire adult life working in radio (much of it producing imaging, where you use sound effects and the like to make something sound more full), I’ve found that there is very little benefit to car horns, sirens, crashes, etc. being placed in the back ground.

    For instance, I doubt there were any listeners who thought, “That podcast about the cars was terrible, until the car horns were brought into it, then I liked it.”

    (Note that the podcast at hand is on my phone and I have not yet listened to it to make a judgement on this specific case)

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  2. Shaun G says:

    I have instituted a ban on a children’s CD we used to play in our car for our son. It’s got “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” on it, and the song is punctuated by several real-sounding car horns. I just can’t deal with it.

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  3. Jon says:

    with regards to the headphones while driving issue, I commute about 2 hours a day and I have to podcast with headphones to keep my sanity. Always keep volume down low enough to still hear the traffic noise and after over a year, I’ve never had any kind of problem (or any police concerns either). It’s really not a safety issue at all. Of course, one ear in & one ear out works as well.

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  4. Laura Conrad says:

    The same argument applies to siren noises, as well.

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  5. Bryce says:

    If requiring more noise on cars go through it’s the stupidest thing that could ever be done for urban dwellers. I live near a pretty busy street and would love if even a small percentage of the cars were quieter. Isn’t that progress?

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  6. Geoff says:

    In my city there are regular cases where people have been killed by the mass-transit trains when they walked across the rails while absorbed in their music. Granted, this can happen with book-readers too, but generally some people don’t seem to pay much attention to their surroundings and it can get them killed.

    Perhaps this is non-preventable, and we should let natural selection take its course. But perhaps all audio needs to include regular loud car-horn blasts – ha ha, THAT would be irritating! And a nice fascist solution.

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  7. Eric M. Jones says:

    Yes, it would be unexpectedly good sense not to use car horns and ambulance sounds in audio presentations that might be used in a car, or phones ringing at home. or fire smells in Smell-O-Vision theaters…or vibrating theater seats in that “The Tingler” movie.

    I too, recently heard a car horn on the radio that almost got me into an accident. The Ninth Circle of Hell reserved for people who think this is acceptable.

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  8. Dan Aris says:

    Not supposed to wear headphones?

    Unless you’ve got noise-cancel headphones, or the in-ear type that block out all outside sound, I have never been able to understand why one should not wear headphones while driving. The only way I can see to be able to block out enough sound be a cause for concern is if you crank up the volume loud enough to nearly deafen yourself.

    And it’s not like you can’t do that with the stereo anyway.

    If you shouldn’t be wearing headphones, then it seems to me you shouldn’t be listening to the radio loudly, either.

    (Disclaimer: I have worn headphones on my commute nearly every day for the past 7 years. Only time anyone even suggested that I shouldn’t was when a family member who’s a lawyer in another state saw me with them on. Got a speeding ticket once with them on—the cop never batted an eye at them.)

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