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 Old time radio’s image of the rocking chair next to a wireless the size of a substantial piece of furniture is outdated.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

    A similar danger is cars and trucks that honk every time the doors are locked or unlocked, thus giving repeated false alarms. Fortunately this is generally illegal and can be turned off; unfortunately, horn laws aren’t enforced.

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  2. AaronS says:

    I one time had a near-heart attack when, while driving along contentedly, the radio decided to alert me that it was Friday by sounding something that sounded like an out-of-control semi about four inches from my bumper.

    They had evoked road rage in me on a nearly empty highway!

    But in truth, it could have caused an accident. Think of someone swerving, thinking an accident was imminent. Or slamming on their breaks as an unfortunate reaction.

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  3. bonnie lynn says:

    I drive an hour each way to work, so I pretty much almost exclusively only listen to music and podcasts in my car, sans earphones of course. I hate when anything I listen to in my car includes any sort of sound meant to be a warning signal when driving, including car horns, and especially sirens. I think it is hazardous, as I naturally respond by looking to see where the noise came from. This can be distracting, at the very least, if not completely disorienting, as I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. While this distraction may only last a second or two, that is certainly enough time to potentially cause an accident. I agree that it would be best to exclude these sound effects from future podcasts.

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  4. Brian says:

    I’ll stop wearing headphones when drivers stop driving with the radio on or windows up. I can hear cars passing, sirens blaring, and birds chirping, which I couldn’t always hear in the car. If anyone (cyclist or otherwise) gets hit by a car because they can’t hear it, it’s because they failed to look before changing behaviors (turning, changing lanes, etc) or because the driver is the one who was oblivious. Why should a cyclist be responsible for the behavior of those behind them?

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  5. Joe says:

    Ear buds help block the noise from the boom car that I’m stuck next to at the light… Outlaw boom car noise, then we can talk about eliminating ear buds. I’m quite certain the nice gentleman with the rap turned up so loud that it rattles my car is unaware of any external sound in his immediate vicinity.

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  6. Tim says:

    I agree with Fred’s point- a lot of good programming use car horns, and I look around panicked around every time.

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