Friday, March 31, 2006

A Few Thoughts From the Road

Road bike that is...no this isn't the post I promised about the evils of my bike, but that's coming...

I was riding my bike back from Troy on Highway 8 this afternoon. The shoulder is virtually non-existent this time of year, covered with the gravel that's been on the road all winter. Although even when I'm riding the white line, there's still plenty of room for cars to be passing me going both directions.

I was about 75 yards from where I'd be making a left turn, so I glanced over my left shoulder to check traffic behind me. One car about 150 yards back. No one in sight up ahead in the opposite lane. I swung my bike across both lanes and ended up near the left shoulder to make my turn. About 10 seconds later a black Mercury, the car I'd seen behind me, passed in the right lane. And he blared his horn as he passed. Not the friendly two-honk of "Hey how's it goin?" or "I approve of your activity," but the long, sustained, "I'm pissed at YOU, Matt Gaither."

This reminded me of something I've noticed this year. What are horns in cars for? If you asked a Ford or Toyota employee they'd probably say something like "To let someone know they're in danger," or something to the effect of preventing an accident. I disagree. Far and away, the most common use of horns that I've seen has been to express one's annoyance with something that's already happened. It has the frivolous use of getting your buddy's attention, or like the honk I didn't get, a friendly hello to a stranger. But when do we get honked at most? After we’ve been cut off. After someone turns into our lane without signaling. After the guy in front of us stops short. The horn is just there to say “I AM ANNOYED WITH YOU” in one single bleat.

You may be asking: Have you ever been in an accident or seen one? Or seen one avoided by a horn’s use? I’ve seen two since I’ve been in Moscow. The first was pretty awful. It was early in the morning and I was on my bike heading towards the intersection of 6th and Jackson from campus. When I was about 20 yards from the crossing, a minivan heading towards me collided with a loaded semi moving about 40 miles an hour. The truck continued through to the other side unaffected while the minivan spun around almost 400 degrees. Turns out that the sun was rising just behind the stoplights and the woman in the van didn’t see the red. No horns.

A few months ago I was riding my bike up 3rd St. near the old Co-op as a station wagon inched its way out of the parking lot, trying to make a left turn. They were quickly caught in the middle of the lane, perpendicular to traffic, stopped by cars heading the opposite direction. I knew there was a car behind me and to my left, and sure enough it passed me, locked up its brakes and slid right into these people. Again, no warning horn.

It seems like horns are just there as a release valve to regulate people’s frustration on the road. When faced with a possibility of actual danger, we’re too focused on avoiding the danger to think about tapping the middle of our steering wheel. I think about this every time I’ve had a near miss in my own car. I actually specifically think about how I didn’t think to use my horn. It was the furthest thing from my mind.

So I say, do away with the things. That’s right, this is my proposal to remove car horns from our world. Anything that gives us another outlet to be spiteful to one another I can do without, thank you very much. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me it’s the condition of the heart that’s the problem, and that people will just find another way to express their anger without their horns. That’s fine, but until we shape up, let’s at least keep it quiet.

4 comments:

shell said...

Think of this....
Horns are negative reinforcers. Do something stupid and you get a spurt of horn rebuke, which can jolt you out of your daydream to concentrate on your driving, cause you to put down the cell phone, or get upset...or all three. In any case you will hopefully think twice before you do what you just did.
Also, I have heard of people honking their horn if they are out of conrol and running a red light...but never seen it...so it might be an urban legend.

JBall said...

Capital!

mg said...

I can buy that...

Larson Hicks said...

ah...hello there my fellow cyclist! yes, horns, my beloved friends. when i was in india, i learned the true value of the horn. without a horn, you're car is as good as...well, not good. honest to goodness, people spent most of their "pimping my ride" fund on a custom (LOUD) horn. I remember riding from the airport in Nagpur to the house we lived in and just laughing histarically the entire time because of how amazingly dangerous and out of control driving was. ah...good times. cheers.