Aaron DiManna
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The Dream of a Better Car Horn

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An old-timey truck horn
There has been surprisingly little evolution since this was the norm
Photo: Max Pixel

The traditional car horn is an inelegant but practical solution to a complicated problem. That being, “how do I communicate something to another driver that can’t see or hear me?” For the most part, the horn gets the job done, but in the process, it loses any form of nuance and reduces the complexity of human interaction to a flat honk.

There has to be a better way

In my younger years, I envisioned a system where drivers could send each other messages to an in-dash display, using license plates as quasi-phone numbers. This would come in handy when you want to apologize to the person you accidentally cut off, let someone know that their turn signal is still on, and a million other instances. Eventually, I realized that I simultaneously invented legal texting and driving and a way for complete strangers to bully you on the highway.

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After the dismal failure of my first concept, I shelved the idea for a while. Then, while listening to a podcast called My Brother, My Brother, and Me, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one troubled by the simplicity of the car horn.

The path the three hosts took towards building a better car horn was similar to mine. They started with putting CB radios in all vehicles, then considered a way to send emojis to other drivers before realizing that, yes, that’s basically just texting and driving. Then they stumbled onto an idea that I want to see in all cars by no later than 2025.

The idea

The basis of the idea is that we replace the one traditional horn in the center of the steering wheel with three discrete horns. One button makes a sound that’s identical to the honk we already know. Its function is to alert other drivers to the fact that they messed up in some way, like my turn signal example. The second horn sounds completely different, and is strictly for non-traffic related situations, like letting someone know you’re outside their house or to indulge a school bus full of kids.

The third, as the hosts called it, is the “great job” horn, and its potential is endless. See someone accelerate once the light turns green rather than just sitting there? Now you can thank them. Notice someone parallel park with ease? Give them a sound-based pat on the back. Finally saying goodbye to your highway buddy? Bid them a fond farewell.

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Of course, there will be kinks to work out, but I think this system is a bold step towards improving communication on the road and creating a more harmonious driving experience for everyone.