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?