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Communicating via Horn

I was biking with a friend over the summer, on a back road with no traffic. We took advantage of the empty road, biking side by side in the lane – according to Massachusetts state law, on roads without a bike lane we are able to take up the full lane, but we wouldn’t typically do that at a busier time of day, out of safety concerns.

As we came back towards a more populated area, we stopped at a stop light. Suddenly, as a car approached us from behind, there was a loud, angry HONK. We both jumped, and quickly moved to the side, feeling that mix of shame and defensiveness that comes from being honked at. But as the driver passed, she waved to us in a friendly way. Her honk had only meant to let us know she was there, not intending to reprimand us for being in the road.

What if there were multiple horns?

That’s when we realized: cars need more horns! If they all sounded different, it would be so much easier to communicate. Here’s a quick list of some of the horns a driver could use.

  • Scared horn: This would be the largest, easiest to hit. It’s for when someone swerves toward you or does something else that scares you as a driver, so that you can hit it quickly and without a thought.
  • Hello horn: This is for letting a friend know you see them.
  • Angry/annoyed horn: This is the horn some drivers choose to use for bikers, but could also be for sitting in slow traffic. It’s possible that calling this the “angry horn” would even cut down on the number of people who use it, since they would be identifying their own anger.
  • Awareness horn: This is to let a biker or other driver know that they’re in your way, but in a nice way.

What other horns are we missing?

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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