Blow! Out

Let me begin with a story.  A few years ago, my sister was visiting me in the US.  One of her friends had also come to New Jersey on a professional assignment from India.  There was a need for him to go from his hotel to another one, about 15 miles away.  Three factors came into play here; there was no ride (lift) available to him, the hotel had rental cars available and he had been driving in Delhi for several years.  He came to grips with his fears and decided to take the plunge and drive [along with a rider].  He consulted my sister on the best route and the best road behaviour and off he went.  An anxious 30 minutes later, my sister received a call signifying that he had indeed made it to his destination without major incident.  In fact he was rather proud of the fact that he only had 4 people honk at him during the trip!

What a difference in perceptions!  In fact, what a difference in facts!  In Delhi, I can personally vouch that any trip of 15 miles or 24 km of good driving in traffic will elicit an order of magnitude more people blowing their horns at you.  I can also personally vouch that in 15 years of driving in the US, my horn usage would have been limited to single digits.  So, the meaning of 4 honks was quite different for the two parties on the call.

In India, blowing your horn is a way of life on the road.  I have observed a person pressing the horn about every 2 minutes on average just out of habit.  Let us not even mention traffic jams and red lights.  I have also observed that the public is becoming fairly immune to the horn – they seem to filter it out when they hear it.  Further observation states that the solution being provided to this is louder and more metallic horns.  Loudness of horns is a major concern for new car buyers and the dealers are quick to respond with upgrades.  What a world…..

I am sure every resident of and visitor to India is aware of this.  Nothing new there.  However, I would like to propose a radical solution.  Let us ban horns – disable them on every vehicle on the road.  I can already hear the screams; ‘you are crazy’, ‘that will lead to chaos’, ‘how will we warn people of impending doom?’,….

I agree.  I probably am crazy.  It will lead to chaos.  But for how long?  The theory of creative destruction teaches us that alternatives are found.  Human behavioural studies teach us that people adapt.  Let us, for a moment, analyze how people will adapt.  I can guarantee that they will not stay off the road.  They would do that today if they could.  Other techniques to adapt would include using one’s senses; look left and right before joining a main artery; look in your rear-view mirrors and side mirrors before changing lanes; wait for the light to turn green before crossing a red light; wait for the pedestrian to cross before turning on a side road; ……

Wait!  The proposed results seem to suddenly make things nice.  This is the way we want everybody on the road to behave (except ourselves of course).  This will make my life better, we say.  But, will turning horns off make this happen?  In my view it will.  The price will be the chaos until self-preservation forces a change of habit.

Will the desired habits be formed?  Will the price be worth it?  Is it a whackily practical thing to try?  What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “Blow! Out

  1. It is very practical. As you said, i believe people in India blow their horns more because they are used to it. In most cases, the blowing doesnt really yield or is not intended to yield anything. It is mostly taken for granted. Will be a good option to try and see how things turn out w/o the horn. But can we even predict the amount of mess it might cause till people are used to doing w/o it? Maybe that will be the subject of a good analysis.

    • Agreed – use of something in proximity for no particular reason. A blanket or teddy bear syndrome.

      The analysis would be interesting. Want to volunteer?

  2. Its more to do with culture not because they like to or used to. Blowing horn is mandatory in India from time immemorial. Why? There is no concept of lanes in India as is the case with most developed countries. So honking is a way of alerting the driver ahead of you that there is someone behind. And that will continue and will be the norm until the infrastructure is expanded.

    Most of the large vehicles have the sign “PLEASE SOUND HORN” at the back. If you don’t honk and gets into an accident – the first question is did you alert the driver ahead of you that you were coming (i.e. did you honk?).

    I’m all for stop honking but first lets address the underlying issue – better infrastructure.

    • Ram – I am not sure if you reside in India or not or when you were last here. The infrastructure here has improved significantly over the years. Maybe it does not match up to the standards you desire, but it is moving in the right direction; again maybe not fast enough. However, I still believe that honking has become a convenience more than anything else. You can hear people using the tool in areas that does have the requisite infrastructure.

      As for the fact that you could get into an accident, I think that is more about the way we drive than any structural requirements. Not having access to this supposed quick-fix will go a long way in fixing those habits – that is what the point is here.

      Don’t get me wrong – a horn is very useful for an emergency situation, but do you really believe that we face one of those every few minutes or seconds?

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