And now for something completely different: A profile of a Gen Y Driving Vigilante

by Zach Blattner (b. 1982)

There are legitimate reasons for using your horn. Most often, rational human beings reserve their honking for situations of imminent peril – a car is about to move into their lane or someone is about to back into them. In these cases, instinct – by way of a honk – takes over. We honk because we have no other choice.

There are other moments when the horn is used without a clear safety purpose. Say, for instance, someone hasn't realized the light has changed from red to green. This is a honk of awareness with ensured understanding on both sides; the honker is communicating to the honkee that he needs to drive. Another good reason for honking is to say "goodbye" to a group of people close by or to a car that was leading you onto the freeway in a new neighborhood. I'm sure there are other appropriate honking situations as well. In fact, it seems rather simple to delineate between well-intentioned, helpful honks and useless, mean-spirited ones. Or so it would seem.

I only realized recently that a close friend of mine (a bright friend) struggles with this dichotomy. He honks at cars who he believes have committed any sort of driving misconduct. His reason is simple: education through shame.

These unfortunate drivers may be unfamiliar with an area and are therefore driving slower than his acceptable traffic flow. They may have left their blinker on longer than he deems appropriate. They may find themselves in an only left hand turn lane. They may be the old, the sick or the young. He does not discriminate nor contemplate the effectiveness of even a short, quick beep. Instead, he "really slams the horn – that's what it's made for". When asked about his long term objective, he responds that "maybe next time they won't stall in traffic or try to nudge into a shorter toll line."

So I've labeled him a driving vigilante, a man on a mission to right the wrongs of the road with no regard for his own appearance. Like any conflicted super-hero, he isn't overly concerned with public opinion, or the conventional wisdom that honking probably doesn't teach those drivers anything, other than that he is an ass. His vision is a world with better drivers who continually improve – through tragedy and suffering – until they eventually become the Nietzschean ubermensch.

I think I might start honking more.


  1. Ha, ha. My mother would not approve. My most frequent use of the horn is to tell the driver in front of me that the light has turned green when that person makes no sign of moving. If my mom is present, she says I just need to be more patient.

  2. The interesting thing is that a car horn has only one noise. You can't be polite with it, you can't change tone, and you can't say anything specific. It's up to the person who hears it (which is anyone nearby) to guess as to what you mean. To most people it's just an annoyance and an excuse to exercise the middle finger.
    By contrast using non-auto transportation, I can talk to people on my way out someplace, make friends, have a conversation, etc. Because there's nothing separating me from society.
    (BTW -please don't share the dozens of excuses why you can't do this, it's far too late for that)