Home » Should Honking Your Horn Be Considered Free Speech?

Should Honking Your Horn Be Considered Free Speech?

Aa Freespeechhorns
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I assume all United States Supreme Court Justices, be they active, retired, or dead, are avid Autopian readers. You don’t get to a position like that not reading the Autopian, if you know what I mean. That’s why I was a bit surprised that the Supreme Court recently declined to hear a case about if honking a car horn should be protected speech under the First Amendment. The case had to do with laws that penalize or restrict car horn-honking, and a Californian named Susan Porter was the person who managed to take a horn honking ticket all the way to the Supreme Court, and I gotta say I really respect that unwillingness to pay, what, a $75 fine or so? Hell yeah.

The car horn is the sound of democracy in action,” is what Porter’s lawyers wrote in their appeal, and I won’t lie: I love that. Personally, I’m inclined to think that car horns are protected speech, since in many ways I think of a car as a prosthetic to the body, where our physical actions are translated and magnified by the machinery of the car. We push a pedal, we move forward. We turn our arms to turn a wheel, the car turns accordingly. And so we smack the center of our steering wheel as we yelp in rage, and the car emits a booming honk in response.

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Of course, there are reasons why you might want to restrict honking. It’s annoying, I’m trying to sleep here, and there are safety concerns. Rationally, I guess honking should be limited to situations that demand urgent attention from a driver. This sort of fits with the old “yelling FIRE in a crowded theater” First Amendment restriction argument.

Aa Horn

But, at the same time, walking around in public and yelling “FRANKFURTER” or “AEROLA” or any other random word isn’t illegal, but, sure it is annoying, at least that’s what I’ve been told by those agitated people at that wake.

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So, what do we think? Is a car horn just an extension of the driver’s voice, protected by the same First Amendment rights our larynx-produced noises get? Or should a horn’s bleat be restricted to safety uses?

Let’s discuss, in this First Amendment-protected setting, and I’ll allow car horn-generated comments here, too.

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The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
1 month ago

No, any more than playing boomy music very loud right over your neighbors is free speech.

Also it’s AREOLA, not AEROLA

Last edited 1 month ago by The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
ZF Good
ZF Good
1 month ago

I’m glad the SC threw it out. A quick internet search shows most horns are 110db. It’s reasonable to be protected from unnecessary noise. ….“Freedom of speech” was originally about not having to fear getting arrested for things you say in private. Amongst friends, at private gatherings etc. Not about spewing BS in public, on TV, or making noise. “Freedom” originally meant something else as well. These days, too many people seem to think that “freedom” is freedom from responsibility for their actions. And it’s literally killing us all.

Last edited 1 month ago by ZF Good
Robert Stanley McLaughlin
Robert Stanley McLaughlin
1 month ago

Horns can be seen as safety devices, in the “see something, say something” way. If you see someone running through a red light, your horn may prevent someone from getting t-boned, for instance. Doing it in anger is different in my opinion because it relaxes the caution of other drivers, “they’re only pissed off..”. Automotive safety is in the same zone as airplane and marine safety. Sometimes similar numbers of people are at risk.

Headfullofair
Headfullofair
1 month ago

When I’m walking or biking, I will yell “HONK!” at reckless vehicles. And cars know what I’m saying immediately. You’d think that they would discern my vocal cords’ pathetic attempts to imitate their sound and disregard my protestations, as they would any regular human word. But for a “honk” they take instant action.

Which makes honk a word, and words are speech, and speech is protected.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 month ago

Ever since reading an early article here mentioning the Roadrunner’s ‘Meep-Meep’ horn sound I have idly wanted to install a pair in my Subaru.
Many people expect a WRX to have Hella Horns—I’d like to have a polite ‘hey, light’s green: put your phone down, please’ reminder rather than blasting someone: the clip I found online makes me smile.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 month ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Do it.

I had to after reading that article.
Green light courtesy honks have become a thing of joy instead of anxiety inducing.

Meep Meep

Last edited 1 month ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Mr E
Mr E
1 month ago

Perhaps, in certain instances, we could flip a switch in the car that would produce a forceful “Ahem” instead of a honk…

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

I support honking at Supreme Court members, yes. Honk extra loud. Honk like you’ve never honked before. HOOOOOOONK

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Is it possible for them to hear the horn with head up the butt?
Is it legal to use both the horn and finger at the same time?

Last edited 1 month ago by Col Lingus
Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

The horn-and-finger combo is an escalation, for sure. Generally, I think of it this way in everyday traffic:
1. Sarcastic thumbs-up: yeah, good job, buddy, REALLY good job (at screwing up).
2. Silent middle finger: if they see it, fine, if they don’t, fine—but you at least have a one-finger conduit for rage.
3. Two silent middle fingers: A variant of the above gesture meant to channel additional rage if you can safely detatch both hands from the wheel.
4. Horn: Unless this is a friendly honk—context matters here—it’s car-ease for “pay some frickin’ attention, you oblivious fartweasel.”
5. Horn plus finger: You need them to see that you’re enraged because whatever they just did is stupid AND dangerous.
6. Horn plus two fingers: Oh, nooooooow they’ve gone and done it.
7. Horn plus whole car flipping the bird: Put your driver’s license (or law degree, in this context) in a wood chipper and withdraw from polite society.

Depending on the situation, justice involved, level of corruption, and/or traffic offense, all gestures and particularly number seven are more than acceptable things to do. In other words, number seven should probably be the default if it happens to be an overpriced “motor coach.”

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Thanks Stef. Well done.
One of my favorite memories is the 80 yr old woman who flipped me the bird for tapping the horn as she sat stopped at a green light, with about 30 cars behind her. She then followed me into the Target parking lot and got out and tried to rage engage me again. All I could do is laugh at her, to her face. I have since learned to honk horn, then “look around” like I’m trying to figure out who is the one honking. Always good for a laugh.

Where I am, flipping the bird will get you a ticket at the very least. If you are black it will get you a trip to the police station. The Supreme Court means nothing here as far as what your “rights” are. Life is strange, and a real shit show at times in my neck of the woods.

Thanks for the grins. Take care. Best to you.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

See, you never follow the person you’re mad at. Rule #1 of fingers and honking. Just keep driving (…away from the bunghole who deserved that lewd gesture).

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

When I drove a beater with bad tires and no ABS, my favorite was just hitting the brakes a bit too hard and locking them for a quick squeal. The person who pulled out without looking would actually give an oops wave and hopefully pay a bit more attention for a few minutes instead of getting ragey.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago
Reply to  Defenestrator

That’d have scared the poop out of me, NGL.

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