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 Old time radio’s image of the rocking chair next to a wireless the size of a substantial piece of furniture is outdated.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. larry english says:

    don;t ride with earphones!


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  2. Clancy says:

    If your earbuds are blocking out ambient noise, then you have the volume too loud and are damaging your hearing. If you are on the road, make sure you can still hear the traffic around you. If you are at home and want to drown out noise, don’t use earbuds, use the big headphones.
    Also, I totally agree with Fred. So many times I have been sent into a momentary panic by a car horn or a siren coming from the radio. It’s just dangerous and irresponsible. I hope you take Fred’s advice to heart, and while you’re at it, tell every other radio producer you know.

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  3. Joshua Northey says:

    I’ll repost what I just posted there…

    MattNYC, I have biked maybe 30,000 miles in headphones, they are no safety risk and are on low enough that I can hear the cars when they are still over a hundred feet away. I haven’t had a single problem with not hearing a car.

    I do agree completely with the idiocy of putting car horns in podcasts on the radio or anywhere else that they might be heard while driving/biking/et cetera.

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  4. BSK says:

    There is a great “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode where Larry David gets into it with another driver because of an AAMCO commercial. The old jingle went something like “Double A [honk honk] MCO”. If I remember the episode correctly, David thought the guy behind him honked, he turned around and said something, wherein the guy rammed him and drove off.

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  5. Wil Random says:

    MatNYC’s “counter” argument only serves to reinforce Fred’s. Fred is simply advising Freakonomics not to include ambient danger signals in their podcasts. That’s a valid point (one I’m actually surprised has to be made!) whether or not you’re wearing headphones while cycling or driving. And clearly Fred’s concern illustrates that even with headphones on, he’s being sensitive to perceived warning signals around him.

    These two arguments speak to very different points and aren’t countering each other.

    Thanks for the warning, Fred. I’m on a roadtrip and downloaded this podcast last night for today’s drive. Instead, I’ll listen to something else.

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  6. Jacob says:

    I stopped listening to talk radio and began listening to podcasts on my commute because there was a rather common commercial at the time with a loudly approaching siren. I found I was far safer with headphones at a reasonable volume than being nervous about a siren multiple times during my commute, or tuning sirens out entirely which I was doing by the second day.

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  7. Ginny says:

    I listen to podcasts while driving, and I have to say that I found your gratuitous insertion of the sound of car horns very annoying. Every time you had that sound, I had to look around if it came from the outside and I was doing something wrong.

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  8. janpz says:

    Given that “comments … generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive,” it seems odd that you published Fred’s letter in its entirety, including him telling you, “F**k you.” I must be getting old. I always thought telling someone, “F**k you!” was pretty much the gold standard of abusive comments. Does writing, “F**k you.” lessen the abusiveness?

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