Car horns are designed to be earsplitting; if the driver in the next lane starts to swerve into your path, you want to be able to alert him with a blast he won’t mistake. For such safety related uses, the high volume and jarring tone are justified.
However, people also use the horn for another purpose – to draw another person’s attention. The driver in front is dozing off when the light changes to green? Honk! You want to ask directions from an absent minded pedestrian on the sidewalk? Honk, honk!
The problem is, we only have one horn, which – as noted already – is designed to be loud. Yet for waking the sleepy driver at the light you don’t need a loud blast; a gentle beep would be quite enough, and reduce the noise pollution on our city streets. And we don’t have a gentle beep in the car!
So, what can we do about this? Many drivers ignore the matter and just use the loud horn. Others, the more considerate ones, try to hit the horn button fleetingly, cutting the blasts short. But it would be most useful to everyone if auto makers were to simply equip their cars with two horns – a loud one for emergency use (activated from the steering wheel as today) and a more quiet one, that would be triggered by a smaller control, for drawing attention without annoying the general population. In fact, this could be designed to emit a pleasant tone or tune that would create goodwill rather than antagonism and road rage at the receiving end…