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I was stopped at a red light waiting to turn right. A stream of pedestrians crossed in front of my car. I waited. Then, from behind me, I heard the familiar blare of a car horn. Was I in some danger? Was I being alerted to some hazard? Was I absentmindedly drifting into another lane?

No.

The driver behind me was in a hurry. He was in such a rush that he needed me to run over some pedestrians. Perhaps that's hyperbole: But by angrily honking his horn, he was suggesting that I should risk running over the pedestrians crossing the street to allow him to make the right turn 15 seconds sooner.

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Lives or limbs could be lost but he would be a little less in a rush.

Sadly, this wasn't a unique occasion. Drivers use their horns for many reasons, almost all of them related to acting like over-grown infants. Sealed up in their steel cages, they feel invincible and the horn is the outlet for all their pent-up frustrations.

Now, some are trying to tame the horn. Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer and You Tuber has created the "nicest car horn ever" that allows him to use different honks for different situations. He has a nice "courtesy" honk for polite nudges, a cute "R2D2" horn for pedestrians and a regular honk for warning other drivers of hazards.

Most horns, however, lack this subtlety. Drivers honk their horns because:

  • Someone is in front of them and that makes them sad.
  • They are stuck in traffic and don’t know what to do.
  • They had a bad day and now it’s your problem.

A horn in the wrong hands is a headache – but will we one day be nostalgic for its angry blast?

Some auto experts believe that the rise of the self-driving automobile will leave us with a mechanical silence. If the guy who honked at me was upset because I wouldn't run over pedestrians, wait until he gets a look at automated cars. They are designed to obey the rules of the road. As these vehicles begin to fill our roads, the only people left honking will be angry humans venting on machines that aren't programmed to get upset. A recent Bloomberg article observed that in areas where self-driving cars are being tested, "human drivers keep running into them in low-speed fender benders. The run-ins highlight an emerging culture clash between humans who often treat traffic laws as guidelines and autonomous cars that refuse to roll through a stop sign or exceed the speed limit."

Once we reach peak self-driving cars, will there be nothing but the quiet hum of environmentally friendly engines? That could be more unnerving than the horns. Can you imagine New York City without the barrage of car horns? Spooky.

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That's the thing about car horns. When someone is honking at you in anger they're a scourge. If you're a die-hard city-dweller, however, it can be comforting to walk along downtown streets and hear a chorus of car horns. And what about all those "honk" bumper stickers? What will happen to them? You know: "Honk if you love unicorns." "Honk if you love dying and being dead." "Honk if you love poop." "Honk if you're a goose." "Keep honking – I'm reloading."

I've got one we can try: "Honk if you miss honking."

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