There is one part of the car that helps save lives and infuriates other road users in equal measure. The car horn was developed to let people know you’re there or to warn another road user of an unseen hazard. But is mostly used to tell people that was a poor manoeuvre.
Horns on animals are also used as a weapon, so it follows that in human hands, the horn functions similarly; representing strength and aggressiveness.
Where cars diverge from animals whose horns are symbols of power and dignity, horns on cars expose terrible human traits of anger and impatience.
And so the humble car horn is very rarely used as designed. I propose a full redesign, an evolution from one pressure (in)sensitive button into three steering wheel mounted buttons, following a regrettable occurrence on this morning’s spin. A car horn from behind was beeped with a duration of more than hello, but shorter than you stupid arse. A difficult time slot of noise to translate, Did I do something wrong ?/ Am I in the way? – but definitely not ‘How are you?’. So I just ignored it. Then came the second, longer blast …on a straight road.
My response was immediate and overly ferocious. Turning around, I balled and gestured to the beep against my road craft as a cyclist. I shouted for all cyclists, defending our road space, for all wrongs that had been done to us in the last 120 years of shared road use. I gestured to defend my rights to pedal.
When through the red head of rage, I noticed, the person I was yelling at was my friend’s mum, a nice lady, who was just beeping to say she recognised me. But she is old and not great with the button sensitivity. Her beeps were not as controlled as I would have liked to decree a meaning of said beep. I had just wished her to move, forcefully, at a pace, back to her place of residence.
An awkward time followed where my gesture, slowly, evolved into a wave and my bark into a “AAForfUcccTRFCCCcFKKKKsakKe>>>O…he…..Loo Mrs……..”
One successful solution could be the re introduction of the Klaxon horn, which was introduced in Henry Ford’s Michigan factory on the mass-produced Model T cars. They fitted the ‘Aoogha horn’ – which described the sound it made. The Aoogha horn, regardless of how aggressively it was pressed, punched or squeezed, could not be misinterpreted for anything other than “Hey neighbour”. In the 1960 there was horn progression when the Plymouth Road Runner muscle car would emit a cartoonlike meep meep, just like the feathered nemesis of Wile E. Coyote. Further joy in the car horn world was in the car horn heard in the peloton of Le Tour. The evoking two tone shrill evoked a mechanic smoking a long cigarette, leaning out with a stickybottle to Jean-François Bernard in the 1988 Tour.
The horn needs to evolve. Regardless if the motorist punches or lightly taps the horn. Only the duration is heard by the cyclist/other road user.
So my proposal is three buttons :
1, Small button: which when pressed produces the shortest of beeps, – 0.2 seconds
Translation: Hello, or opps, or thanks
2, Medium button, The half second ‘beep’ .
Translation: I’m here, watch out or What the hell!
3, The Large button, the 2-second beep: Causes heads to turn and hearts to stop in a street.
Translation: Incoming missile, What the hell did you just do? Insurance details please.
In the 2 times since I have seen my friend’s mum, the relationship has soured somewhat, become cold. All because of my overreaction and her car not being fitted by three individual horns instead of one rubbish one.