Honk if you know when to use horn

The most misused piece of equipment on a motor vehicle is the horn. For most drivers the horn is a way of blowing off steam or expressing disgust with another driver’s behaviour.

We have all been victims of a loud horn blast at some time or another. We probably blasted someone ourselves. Instead of using the horn as it was designed. Drivers are most often likely to be upset, irate and using the horn quite possibly as a prelude to a road- rage incident.

There are a few general rules and international conventions when using the horn on a vehicle. Most professional drivers know that two taps on the horn will precede a reverse move. This simple move is a requirement on the Class 4 professional driver’s test. It is designed to warn others, particularly pedestrians, that they should look for a vehicle moving in reverse. Each year in our province, an average of 40 pedestrians are killed by vehicles they did not hear, see or sense.

Large vehicles come equipped with external beepers that will be engaged while a vehicle is in reverse, thus warning others. This idea has been a great success and has prevented countless injuries, fender benders and a few lives. Some vehicles have an internal beeper that will be a reminder to the driver that reverse is engaged. A single tap of the horn means that a driver is about to move forward. This method works well when drivers are moving amid obstacles that hide them from view.

There are a few times when a driver should “blast” the horn such as, to alert traffic, whether pedestrian or vehicular, of an impending crash. This move is designed to freeze other traffic.

For instance, if you are stopped for an occupied crosswalk and another driver is about to pass you, the horn blast will likely halt the pedestrian. Several times I have seen drivers, who were unable to stop on snow and ice, blast the horn to warn others. There are good reasons to blast the horn but they are few and far between.

In most cases, a fist tap on the horn is enough to politely announce your presence. This method should be used when driving alongside large parked vehicles in order to warn pedestrians who may be hidden between vehicles. Back lanes and parking areas often cause visibility problems for drivers. The horn is a good way to let people know you are close. At night it is also effective to flash your high beams to announce your arrival in confined areas. Many passenger cars and light trucks will soon come equipped with external as well as internal warning devices.

Drivers of hybrid cars and trucks should use the horn more often at low speeds especially on parking lots. Hybrids on battery power do not make a noise and thus can surprise pedestrians and cyclists. The horn is a great way to warn them. Making a fist and punching the horn is a non-threatening, inoffensive way to let people know you are nearby. Only last week, I saw a bus driver hit his horn with several taps to warn a driver of a small sports car that he was about to turn the wrong way on a one-way street.

The horn properly used is a good way to say “hello,” warn other pedestrians and vehicles, and to politely announce your presence. Use it wisely and it will become an asset as intended by the manufacturer.

Steve Wallace is a longtime teacher and owns the Wallace Driving School in Victoria.

Photograph by: Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen