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driving concerns

My horn has been working intermittently. I found this out when an SUV in the next lane didn’t see me and started moving into my lane – I tapped the horn and nothing happened. Luckily, he must have seen me and didn’t hit me. I’m hoping to get it fixed in a week or two, but in the meantime, is it legal for me to drive if the horn isn’t working? Could I use a hand-held air horn or something temporarily? – Jay, Ontario

Your horn is there for safety – and your vehicle legally needs a working horn in every province.

In Ontario, section 75.5 of the Highway Traffic Act states that “every motor vehicle, motor assisted bicycle and bicycle shall be equipped with an alarm bell, gong or horn, which shall be kept in good working order and sounded whenever it is reasonably necessary to notify pedestrians or others of its approach.”

If you’re caught with a horn that doesn’t work, you could face an $85 fine said Sergeant Kerry Schmidt with the Highway Safety Division of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

“It is one way you communicate with other drivers and road users,” Schmidt said.

But it’s unlikely that police would find out that your horn isn’t working, he said. “We’re not doing random spot checks on horns.”

The law doesn’t let you use a hand-held horn if your car’s horn isn’t working.

“That’s not equipment on the vehicle,” Schmidt said. “If you have to alert someone of a hazard, you don’t have time to dig in your glove box for a horn and open a window.”

The rules aside, it’s risky not to have a working horn because you may need it to get another driver’s attention quickly to prevent a crash, said Lewis Smith, manager of national projects with the Canada Safety Council, an Ottawa-based non-profit.

“Horns are intended to serve as an audible alert to other drivers and road users where quick reaction may be required,” Smith said in an e-mail. “When the horn is needed and unavailable, that’s where the risk enters into the equation.”

Most of us honk horns for reasons that have nothing to do with safety, Smith said.

“We often think of horn use in the context of an angry or frustrated driver, honking at someone who cut them off or who is driving too slowly,” he said. “But a horn, when properly used, is a defensive driving tool.”

For instance, you might honk if a driver is drifting into your lane – or if a pedestrian is about to step onto the street without looking first and you might not be able to stop in time.

Several provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have laws that say you should use your horn only if it’s necessary for safety. In Ontario, using one for other reasons can result in an $85 fine.

Section 75.4 states that a driver “shall not sound any bell, horn or other signalling device so as to make an unreasonable noise.”

So, no leaning on the horn just because you’re feeling irritated. That can lead to road rage, Smith said.

“[It’s] important to use the horn only in instances where it can actively help avoid a crash and generally only in quick beeps,” he said. “Prolonged blasts can be seen as aggressive and can escalate the tension in any given situation.”

It’s up to police to decide whether your honking is reasonable, the OPP’s Schmidt said.

For instance, tapping your horn at a driver who’s still stopped after a light turns green might be reasonable, but slamming on your horn because another driver gave you the finger might not be.

Schmidt said he has never given out a ticket for unreasonable honking.

Have a driving question? Send it to and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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