Stop honking: It gives cars a bad name

Not Bon Jovi but advice from an 1899 British motoring publication

Horns used on automobiles have been annoying people and animals for at least 120 years. This article published in March 1899 describes a car horn as a ‘horrible’ instrument. Today, it induces road rage, but long ago when animal carts were the primary vehicles, horns caused draught animals to shy and rear and balk. The golden rule then (and now) was to use the horn as little as possible: “Speaking generally, it is the bad driver who uses the horn most, and so brings motor-cars into disrepute by creating unnecessary alarm to other travellers.” And when you absolutely must honk: “two moderate and short blasts are generally sufficient.”

If you take nothing else away from this article, do remember that ‘hippomobile’ is a really cool name for a horse-cart (from hippos — Greek for horse). It’s turn-of-the-19th-Century British slang.

The original article:

Of all the so-called “objectionable features” of the motor-car from the public’s point of view perhaps the “trompet” or horn is that most objected to. It is unfortunate that so horrible an instrument has been generally adopted by automobilists both in France and in this country. Unfortunately, however, some distinctive sound had to be found, and the quite distinctive tones of this instrument immediately appealed to those responsible for the introduction of motor-cars, with the result that the “trompet” has been generally adopted.

The novice or amateur certainly uses the horn much more frequently than the expert, and this occasionally leads to his undoing. It is our own experience that horses are much more frequently startled by the sound of the horn than by the noise of the approaching or passing motor-car. The novice, or young amateur, having used the horn to such an extent that the horses in his vicinity are startled and become partly beyond control, is in an infinitely worse state than the expert under similar circumstances, for the nervousness of the novice will perhaps lead him into further difficulties, whilst the expert, knowing the capabilities of his vehicle, extricates himself with confidence.

The law compels the blowing of the horn or the giving of some similar signal under certain circumstances, but beyond this, to avoid trouble and to save annoyance, it is advisable that the horn should be used as little as possible. Speaking generally, it is the bad driver who uses the horn most, and so brings motor-cars into disrepute by creating unnecessary alarm to other travellers.

In overtaking a horse-drawn vehicle it is best to sound the horn when some distance behind, and so soon as it is seen that the signal has been noticed to avoid its use again until past the “hippomobile”. Of course it is sometimes necessary to use the horn when quite close to a horse-drawn vehicle — for instance, when it unexpectedly turns out across one’s path; but even on such occasions two moderate and short blasts are generally sufficient to warn the driver.



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