From the Forum – Horn Honking Etiquette

Photo by PoPville flickr user dullshick

honking my horn:

“Looking to the wisdom of crowds to help settle a domestic dispute.

To summarize: between me and my fiance, I do most/all of the driving. I have also come to despite two aspects of city driving – ignorant jaywalking (defined by people jaywalking busy streets with the expectation that cars will avoid them) and egregious cut-offs by other cars (defined as cars cutting you off in a WTF are they thinking/they know better-type sense). I have decided to show my disapproval of these behaviors by honking. Not lay on my horn. Just a honk to convey “yeah, i know what you did and I don’t like it” way.

My fiance finds this behavior distasteful and possibly risky. She fears the day I’ll honk at the wrong person and they’ll get violent with me.

I plead that I need to show my disapproval for rude behavior somehow.


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111 Comment

  • anonymouse_dianne

    Unless its been changed, it is actually illegal to honk your horn in the District. You can be ticketed for it. You are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians in a crosswalk, even if they are jaywalking.

    • “it is actually illegal to honk your horn in the District”

      What?? This cannot possibly be true. There are very legitimate safety reasons for honking your horn.

      • it’s true.

        • Please reference this with a link. If this is true it needs to be changed.

          • I don’t think anyone would get pulled over for using their horn to keep someone from hitting them. It’s more for the “I’m angry and I want everyone around me to know” honk, which is completely obnoxious. Remember, there is probably a residential area within spitting distance of where you’re driving, and those people have to listen to your unnecessary noise.

          • No, it really doesn’t. People aren’t stupid. Honking is loud and obnoxious. You sound like a person who would be opposed to the height limit as well. Let me guess, you’re not native to DC

      • I believe OP means the people who are not in a crosswalk. The type who make sure they stay cool and smooth as a car passes within inches of their back foot; you know, in case their friends are watching.

        I would LOVE car manufactures to install 2-second limiters on horns. There is no legitimate safety reason why a blast longer than 2 seconds would be needed. If you need more horn to warn of an unfolding disaster that requires everyone’s attention, hit it again. Such limiters would improve the quality of life for many bystanders in the District.

        • holy hell, yes! i live near a street that gets busy at rush hour and i hear all these stupid “punishments” that drivers love to give each other. they hold the horn for minutes. neighbors suffer more than the driver being admonished, who likely doesn’t give a fuck.

      • I could have sworn I had read a regulation that it is illegal to honk your horn unless it’s an emergency. But the only thing I find is what Anon5 posted: 18-730.3. I also thought there was a fine for the unnecessary sounding of a horn, but it looks like the fine is only related to horns that are louder than usual.

    • You’re way off. District law requires all cars to have a working horn, and requires drivers to use the horn to give audible warnings.

      District Municipal Regulations

      18-730.1: Each motor vehicle operated upon a highway shall be equipped with a horn in good working order and capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of not less than two hundred feet (200 ft.).

      18-730.3: The driver of a motor vehicle shall, when reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation, give audible warning with his or her horn, but shall not otherwise use the horn when upon a highway.

      • It’s the “reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation” part that is key. I didn’t read the OP as describing his honking as reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation. Rather, he is using the horn to tell people that he thinks they are jerks. This illegal in the District.

        • My comment was a direct response to anonymouse_dianne at July 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm, not the OP.

    • anonymouse_dianne: That is some grade A trolling, right there.

    • “You are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians in a crosswalk, even if they are jaywalking.” I would be seriously surprised if this is the case. You are required to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks UNLESS the crosswalk is at an intersection with lights and/or walk signals, in which case you would yield when, say, making a right turn when the pedestrian has the “walk” signal.
      I live near Georgia Avenue, which used to be ridiculous for people walking through intersections against the light and not even looking to see if there was any traffic coming. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but those instances are still infuriating.

  • Probably not too risky (though you never know) but absolutely distasteful. That’s not what horns are for.

  • Ugh, this sounds like me and my husband. He actually thinks his honking registers with the offending party. Like people who commit rude behavior will hear the horn and think, “I have offended that individual, as expressed by their horn usage. I feel remorseful; I will now rethink my conduct!” Baloney. Honk away, but keep it mind it only serves to help you ventilate. Nobody cares what you think of their behavior.

    • No, don’t honk away. Those of us who live on busy streets have enough noise to listen to without everyone’s unnecessary honking. Plus it’s startling to other drivers and pedestrians nearby.

  • horn honking is stupid, rude, and it doesn’t solve anything. all it does is make noise for bystanders to have to endure.

    • This, exactly. People in their cars have NO IDEA how loud their horn sounds to people on the sidewalk. Aside from worrying about being confronted by the person jaywalking, you might need to worry about others on the sidewalk. I know I have confronted jerk horn-happy drivers in DC before. I’ll usually step over and ask, “What are you trying to accomplish here?”

      And your response would be….? Whatever you say is going to sound ridiculous.

    • Honking is not stupid. Honking should be used to alert a driver or cyclist that doesn’t see you that you are there. I’m not saying “lay on the horn and wave your middle finger” I’m talking about a “horn tap” to say “hey, I’m here, don’t hit me with your car/bike”

      • That’s not what we’re talking about here, though.

      • EXACTLY…. if not for that then what for.

        Illegal in DC? I don’t believe that – perhaps excessively for no valid reason, but illegal.

        Show me…

      • Exactly. I have to use my horn a lot more lately with drivers in front of me using their %^$^*# cellphones at red lights to get them to notice that the light turned green. GET OFF YOUR DEVICE AND PAY ATTENTION.

        • YES. This. Stop texting. Green means go. I feel bad, so I usually try to make it the tiniest, quickest, softest honk ever.

        • Yup, I’d say this is the scenario in which I most commonly use my horn too. And it’s way more common than I’d like.

  • I was recently admonished by a DC police officer for honking at someone who was blocking traffic by unsuccessfully attempting to make an illegal left turn from a stop sign (Taylor at Arkansas–left is illegal during morning rush because traffic on Arkansas is too heavy). The cop was actually sitting there to ticket people making the turn. He told me that it is illegal to honk in DC unless you are trying to warn of immediate danger or to avoid an imminent accident. I didn’t believe him so I looked it up–it’s true. The punishment honk is illegal.

    Also, I think honking unnecessarily kind of turns you into the jerk. It’s aggressive behavior and adds to the unpleasantness of urban living.

    Finally, your girlfriend is right that it may get your ass kicked one day.

  • I’m with you, OP! Honk away. I felt like someone should stick up for you here.

    Terrible drivers deserved to be shamed. Coming from the Midwest, where people are relatively courteous and have heard of these “turn signal” devices, it’s taken me years to get used to drivers out here. But I still maintain my sense of outrage at the more egregious moves that some drivers make.

    Also, sometimes people just don’t see you, and hoking alerts them to your presence.

    • Agreed.

      I drive a scooter and need to use my horn DAILY in order to not get taken out by a dumbass DC or MD driver.

      DC is the only place I’ve been in the US where someone will flip a u-turn mid block while you’re driving and impede the flow of traffic. That definitely deserves a honk!

    • You’d be a lot happier if you just ignored the terrible driving. You’re going to die young of a heart attack if you continue to let it outrage you.

    • “coming from the midwest”….. exactly

    • PDleftMtP

      If you try to bypass a long line of cars and cut in at the front, you’re getting an “I see what you’re doing, asshole” honk. Sorry.

      • Nah, I don’t honk. Just pull up as close as possible to the car in front of me without being offensive to them so as to not let the line cutter in. We all have to band together against line cutters!

  • Coming back from a recent trip overseas I noticed how QUIET it is here, people tend not to honk very often except when it is actually transmitting information. In other places everyone stuck in gridlock is leaning on the horn, as if that’s going to do anything.

  • Sorry, OP, hornhonking is obnoxious, even if someone is jaywalking. The horn is there to warn of imminent danger, not to voice your displeasure with jaywalkers.

    I actually do know someone who was assaulted after honking at a jaywalker (he had his window down; the jaywalker came over and slugged him), but that must be a rare event. The real reason not to do it is because it is obnoxious. It’s kind of the driving equivalent of throwing a public, profane and disruptive temper tantrum at a restaurant because your hamburger was overdone; you’re interfering with many many other people’s enjoyment of their day, overreacting to what is almost always to minor annoyance or even an honest mistake. At best, you have managed only to vent your anger. At worst, you have escalated into a “situation”

    • + a million
      Well said.

    • Isn’t that all just a kind of victim blaming? Someone else has done something that put themselves or me in danger, and I’d be the asshole for expressing that because you don’t want to hear it? Fat chance.

      It’s more like someone running into your table and knocking your food/drinks over, then giving you the finger. I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t hesitate to say something profane and loud, just because you’re trying to have a quiet meal.

      • No, it’s not. You haven’t been victimized.

        • Uh, if someone performs an “egregious cutoff,” I absolutely would be put in danger of being the victim in an accident. People unsafely jaywalking through traffic also puts us all at risk, either by doing something unpredictable, or by forcing others to do something unpredictable to compensate for their stupidity (last second, knee-jerk swerves or slamming on the brakes). Unpredictability is dangerous in traffic.

          • What are you a victim of? Coming close to hitting someone? Do you need the offender to pay for years of therapy to offset the PTSD brought on by their carelessness?

          • Not a victim, but the offending party definitely needs to know that what they did is wrong. If you don’t honk, they might not ever notice that they did something dangerous and will keep making the same mistakes. Think of the honk as a a Pavlovian response mechanism (honk = Bad).

            Besides, please move off of busy thoroughfares in our nation’s Capitol, if you don’t want o hear car honking. There’s plenty of quiet streets in MD and VA where you will never need to hear a peep. DC is actually a lot quieter in terms of honking than most places I’ve been (NYC and cities in Asia are waaaaaaay worse).

          • Ah, the old “if you don’t like it move to the suburbs” argument. Clearly you’ve never lived in Northern Virginia. The vehicular congestion (and therefore honking) is much worse there.

          • I would also argue that Virginia has a much larger population of third world immigrants who are accustomed to honking at every little thing, which makes the situation there a lot worse.

  • Yeah, while I don’t want to get too paranoid about it, I tend to err on the side of avoiding honking–you never know whose road rage you might provoke. And as another commenter said, it likely doesn’t do anything to positively change the behavior of the offending party. Someone who already drives aggressively to begin with is just likely to get more steamed. I try to limit my honking to bona fide warning/courtesy situations, like a light tap to say “whoa, I don’t think you see my car, and if you don’t stop, you’re about to back into me” or whatnot. FWIW, though, my BF and I have this same argument, and I have vivid childhood memories of my parents having this argument…so you are not alone.

  • I agree that all your doing is adding to the noise pollution. And as a resident, I hate to hear honking. However….i have been known to lean over as my husband is driving and honk his horn at someone’s egregious behavior. d’oh!

  • andy

    this argument is a sign that you are going to get married soon. DC got rid of the requirement that you get a syphilis test and now requires that you have an argument with your fiance about whether use of the horn will get you both killed by an angry driver.

  • In my neighborhood, honking the horn is to let your friend/family know that you are outside, double-parked, waiting for them, to be repeated every 3 – 5 minutes until friend appears. Any time day or night.

  • I’m surprised at the responses. I think it’s totally fine to honk the horn. If someone cuts me off walking on the sidewalk, I’ll tell them to watch where they are going. Serves the same purpose.

    • OP isn’t talking about a ‘heads-up’ honk, OP is talking about a ‘punishment’ honk.

      • Isn’t it the police’s job, not ours, to punish bad drivers?

        • I wasn’t endorsing the ‘punishment’ honk, just pointing out that DC and OP aren’t really talking about the same thing.

  • The OP is a jerk and clearly breaking the law. The fact that pedestrians have the right of way shows that DC is a city where people come first then cars. Drivers have to yield to pedestrians and if they don’t like, then don’t drive in the city.

    • Jaywalking peds don’t have the right of way. Not saying every driver should hit the gas and take them out, but they impede traffic flow and put themselves and others at risk.

    • No, pedestrians have the technical right of way pretty much everywhere, but that’s because they are far more vulnerable than drivers. That right of way is not a free pass to jaywalk–it only means that no matter where a pedestrian is, a driver must yield rather than run the idiot down. Stepping out into traffic is still stupid and illegal; right of way is merely a liability issue un this case.

      • “pedestrians have the technical right of way pretty much everywhere”


        “Stepping out into traffic is […] illegal”


      • Uh, tell that to a friend of mine who was handed a jaywalking ticket while lying in the emergency room with a broken leg? Cab hit her in the crosswalk, except she didn’t have the right of way. BTW, cabbie got cited for absolutely nothing.

        • Cabbies are treated differently than ordinary drivers, didn’t you know that? If they can get away with sexual assault on a routine basis they can get away with hitting jaywalkers.

        • I know that in the knowledge test one of the answers is that drivers are required to yield to pedestrians in any roadway, even if the pedestrian is there illegally. But I can’t find that law in any DC regulation…

  • i think it’s a bad idea to try and teach someone a lesson by honking.
    only honk if someone is about to hit you.

  • I honk as obnoxiously as possible to punish idiots that block the box.

  • No, she should try to make him into a better man!

  • I strongly avoid honking my horn in DC. There are people here that will kill you for more trivial “offenses”. Remember the lawn guy who was shot in the face with a .357 Magnum for getting a blade of grass on some dude’s shoe? The murderers statement at trial: “I like to keep myself neat.”

  • [email protected] cyclists!!! Amirite! Oh..wrong thread..moving on.

  • OP – I basically follow your honking strategy, except I also honk at those who don’t know a green light means go (e.g., people talking/texting on their phone). That said, I try to plan ahead and not honk if I can see I’ll soon be trapped at a light or in traffic. Like others here noted, honking is generally rude and it takes me all of 3 seconds sitting in traffic to think “gee, that was rude, I shouldn’t have honked.” And yes, your finance is probably right that you risk a future run in with someone who has even more road rage than you do.

  • Only when pedestrians, step in front and are looking the other way, and

  • This is DC. Not NYC. We don’t honk here. We also make “illegal” u-turns… it’s our thing. Get with it. Be a little more patient, give yourself time to get to your destination. You can spare it… and lay off the horn.

  • Honk if there’s danger, not to express yourself. Do you really think anyone is learning a lesson from your horn?

  • What drives me crazy, and is something I’ve only noticed in DC, is that the person doing something wrong honks back at the person who honked at them. And I see it ALL THE TIME. Example – light turns green, driver sits there texting and the driver behind them honks to get them to go. In response, texting driver who was in the wrong honks back at the other person, like they did something wrong by honking at you. WTF?

    • because the initial honk wasn’t necessary, just a big middle finger… .thus the return middle finger. it’s not that hard to understand

      • But when the front driver isn’t paying attention and misses the traffic signal, they DID do something wrong.

    • The initial honker DID do something wrong.

      • I also don’t see anything wrong with a short honk to get someone’s nose out of their phone so they can proceed through a green light. I really don’t think that everyone behind this person should have to sit through the light.

        • Totally. Plus they’re doing something illegal by being on their phone while driving. Sure they’re stopped at a light but I’m pretty sure they law doesn’t say “no texting while driving…except when stopped at a red light.”

    • This is almost the only time I honk: when an oblivious driver is sitting at a green light, texting or something. I give it only a light tap – even though what the person deserves is, in fact, a middle finger.

  • So many anonny’s flaming each other here. If I had a horn I would honk at all of you.

  • There are two appropriate times to honk: in an emergency situation where there may be an accident and your horn may stop it, and that friendly horn tap when someone doesn’t look up from texting when the light goes green.

    Show your disapproval with your finger.

    • As someone who lives two car lengths back from that light, that “friendly horn tap” can significantly reduce quality of life when repeated 200 times a day.

  • Until we get some system of functioning traffic regulation enforcement (more cameras/sensors or more cops who do something other than just pull over speeders), it’s perfectly fine to give a short, clear “you’re a d**k” blast – not laying on the horn for a minute, though.

    The honking that gets to be a real problem in big cities is the guys buried in traffic who just honk to express frustration at traffic. I rarely hear that in DC.

  • Yes, honking is loud. Should you avoid it, if you can? Of course. Should you really make a huge deal out of people honking and disturbing you? I mean, you can if you like to whine a lot. You live in a city. There are lots of cars, lots of traffic, lots of frustrated people getting angry at stupid things, and sound bounces off the buildings. That’s part of city living. And, let’s face it, the DMV has some of the worst drivers many of us have ever encountered in our entire lives. (To answer your question, “V”, no I did not grow up here, and I’m already imagining your smug reply to this comment that says “Let me guess, you’re not a DC native”, so there’s really no need to take the time)

    Will your honking escalate a situation? It may. If you’re the passenger in a car and you don’t approve of excessive honking, say “i’d rather you don’t honk so much because it may cause a mentally deranged person to shoot us in the face”. And then, if the driver likes you, he/she will probably say, “ok!”.

    That said, I’ve honked maybe 6 times in the 14 years I’ve been driving. I prefer to swear very loud or give the “WHAT THE F&*K!” hand gesture. The offending party usually ignores me and I go about my day without losing any sleep.

  • I was not a honker until I began driving in DC. I am now an advocate of using the horn to warn people you are there, because I’ve discovered that people will cut over without looking, or maybe just without caring. I’ve found people change lanes in traffic circles without looking (it is a bit confusing, I guess…), in intersections (which I am pretty sure is illegal), and/or without turn signals (also illegal). I’ve had several near misses, so now when I honk, I’m just looking out for my personal safety. This almost never happens in a residential area, but if it did, I would abstain. I will say in the other areas I’ve driven (South and Midwest), I never experienced inconsiderate, terrible driving like I have here.

    I do NOT believe in honking when a light turns green, unless it’s been a LONG time; at pedestrians because a) it’s loud for them and b) if they are that inconsiderate, I doubt my horn is going to make a difference; or when people block the box, even though I want to, because if I did that, I’d just be honking all the time.

    Honestly, I think I was a happier person before I drove regularly in this city… Should I revert back to metro?

    • My husband would probably side with your fiancee. He hates my road rage 🙂

    • My office offers heavily-subsidized parking places. After driving for a month, I switched back to using the bus and metro. I’m a lot happier most of the time, except perhaps when it rains.

  • Can’t believe the people standing up for the bad drivers/pedestrians in this city. Someone nonchalantly crossing Rhode Island Ave. (not at a cross walk), needs to be scared, real scared, as they are endangering many people, not just their selves…no matter how rude honking is, it is not nearly as rude as endangering the lives of all the drivers in the immediate area. Another thing, cab drivers are professionals, if they don’t understand the rules of the road, (which lane to be in, where U-turns are illegal, etc.) they need more than a honk, they need to be fired…honking is just my little way of saying, “you are not good at your job, and you should recognize that”…Just another mid-westerner that hopes these offenders aren’t as stupid as they look.

  • I prefer the bird. Not nearly as noisy/ dramatic as a horn, but still gets across my message of dissatisfaction with the recipients driving (and it makes me feel better). DC has no shortage of awful drivers.

  • I wonder what percentage of people claiming horn honking is obnoxious are regular drivers in DC. I get that horns are loud and annoying, but I think car accidents are more loud and annoying. Should you honk at everyone who gets in your way is a jerk? Probably not. The pedestrians probably aren’t going to change their habits and neither are the cars, but I’d much rather you give them a honk to say “you’re a jerk” than try to scare them and do something stupid. Honk away. If you’re not a driver and you think honks are bad I don’t think you want to see what happens when people find other outlets for their anger.

    • I used to commute 1.5 hours each way into DC. Rarely used my horn then and hate it when people use it unnecessarily now. It makes a horrible commute so much worse when you’re hearing all that racket.


    Jaywalkers who jay walk poorly are annoying. One of these days I might get more than a faint f-you in response, but It’s a bit annoying to be playing frogger when you have the right of way.

  • You people are the most namby pamby-est folks I think I’ve ever encountered. OOooo ooo the loud horns hurt my delicate ears. Owwww. *eye roll*

    I’m from down South and where I come from, we honk the damn horn. If you cut me off, I’m honking the horn. If you are checking your phone, and the light turns green, after a few ticks, I am honking the horn cause I have somewhere to be even if you don’t. If you are straddling two lanes or creeping into mine and almost hitting me I AM HONKING THE HORN.

    I don’t honk the horn at pedestrians or bikers.

  • I don’t think after-the-fact honking (which several people have referred to here as a “punishment honk”) does any good. If anything, it just inflames tempers.

    I think honking is acceptable only if you’re trying to prevent something bad from happening (e.g., someone starting to merge from the next lane who doesn’t see you and is about to hit you), if you have the green light at an intersection and pedestrians are walking right in front of you, or a very light tap if someone is in front of you and hasn’t noticed that the light has turned green.

    In that last situation, I always try to honk as gently as possible, to convey “Um, excuse me, the light has changed” rather than “YOU JERK! HAVE YOU NOT NOTICED THAT THE FREAKING LIGHT HAS CHANGED??”

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