Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the same brands of cars, equipped in precisely the same way, are sold in both the Midwest and New York City. Even more surprising, there is no difference whatsoever in the configuration, design, or volume of horns in the cars sold in those two areas of the United States.
This seems impossible to believe, given the difference in honking practices between those two areas. In Columbus, Ohio, you almost never hear a car horn. Even in the face of the most egregious, selfish driving maneuvers imaginable — such as making a tardy left turn, blocking an intersection in heavy traffic, and stopping all movement on the crossing street — Columbusites will never, ever hit the horn. It’s as if some prissy Miss Manners long ago declared that the rules of driving etiquette prohibited honking: it just isn’t done. And when Midwesterners, in moments of extreme angst, do lightly tap their horns, they will blush and look around to see if anyone they knew saw them commit such an appalling faux pas. They obviously feel a deep sense of shame at their lack of personal control, like they just farted in an elevator.
In New York City, on the other hand, it’s as if drivers were actively looking for excuses to honk. I suspect that Manhattan drivers’ training classes teach you to drive with one hand at 10 o’clock and the other positioned directly over the horn at all times. In fact, I imagine that one full day of instruction is devoted to understanding the different levels of honking responses. An NYC honk is never a single beep; the mildest option is a full-throated, goose-like triple honk and the scale ranges up to the ear-crushing continuous blast that can only be produced by an enraged, snarling driver who is leaning his entire body weight into hitting the horn to the maximum extent. There doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the degree of traffic transgression and the appropriate honking response, either: it all seems to depend on the stress levels of the driver. If your day has sucked and you’ve been inhaling exhaust fumes forever in those concrete canyons without making much progress, you might just welcome a mild violation of road rules that lets you unload some of that stress.
If you don’t believe me, take this test. Go to the intersection of Broad and High Streets in the center of downtown Columbus and listen for a car horn. You won’t hear one, even in the distance. Go to any part of Manhattan and do the same thing and you will realize that the honking is so prevalent that it just blends into the cacophony of background noise.
Do drivers in Manhattan have to take their cars in for servicing on their horns? When people go to buy a used car in the New York City area, do they always test the horn to make sure that it works?