You Can Honk, But You Can't Hide
Every town has its own distinctive sounds, from birds chirping to children playing in the street. In the noisiest city in the world, though, these cheerful sounds are drowned out by noise pollution. A study by Residential Acoustics cites New Delhi, India as the most earsplitting place on the globe. Sounds like firecrackers, construction work, and factory clamor characterize India’s capital, and they aren’t just endemic to New Delhi either—India is actually home to the top three noisiest cities in the world. The heaviest contributor to noise pollution? Car honking.
Car honking seems like a relatively global problem in urban areas; critics will argue that there’s a reason why New York City is cited as the city that never sleeps. However, India’s honking has transcended to a whole new level—literally. Drivers press the bleep so frequently that the sounds actually exceed the acceptable human threshold for pain. A surprising stat recently came out that the average Indian driver will honk more in a year than a German does in an entire lifetime.
Jayraj Salgaonkar, engineer of the Oren horn usage meter, explains:
“People blow their horns for no sake…..Mostly it’s habitual. The driver doesn’t realize he’s doing it. People take pride in honking their horn. There’s an ego trip over having a car… Until you make people pay for their usage of the horn, it’s not going to work”
What’s more ridiculous is that manufacturers are actually catering to India’s honking needs by making extra-loud, ultradurable horns for its Indian consumers. Director of Indian operations for the German car maker Audi revealed that special horns are made for Indian vehicles, and people can buy louder horns as an accessory.
Other than a complete nuisance, deafening car horns are a serious health hazard. One noisy car on the road isn’t really a problem, but we’re referring to a larger scale here. A much, much larger scale actually—-there are now about 900,000 cars, 10,000 buses and two million two-wheelers plying the roads of the financial powerhouse, Mumbai. When in unison, these horns produce even more noise pollution than this 60 million hit video.
Busy parts of Mumbai continuously exceed 85 decibels, breaking the limits recommended by the World Health Organization and contributing to high blood pressure, hearing loss and heart disease. Sumaira Abdulali, founder of the Awaaz Foundation which campaigns against noise pollution, says:
“In hospitals, I know people who have suffered very severely even in intensive care units because of the noise (outside). A lot of people in Mumbai are suffering these things and the medical costs are quite high. Cutting down noise would cost much less.”
Excessive noise pollution, not age, is the number one cause of hearing loss. It even has the ability to impair the cognitive development of children. Humans innately favor quiet places, and the aggressive driving nature of India has really polluted the atmosphere as a whole.
Habitual honking is a problem in India that can definitely be reversed. One of the more interesting movements is “Project Bleep,” started by a team of engineers who have created a gadget with a frowning red button to be attached on dashboards. Every time the driver honks his or her horn, the gadget beeps and flashes . Experiments indicate a 61% decrease in honking after installation of the button in cars. Mayur Tekchandaney thinks this is the first step to “make the driver conscious that he just honked and make him deliberate why he did it.”
Another cool gadget that’s being developed is the “Oren horn usage meter” which allows for a limited amount of honking. After a certain amount of honks, the vehicle’s tail-lights flash and alert the traffic police, who can then issue a fine. Critics argue that this could accentuate the pervasive bribery in India’s transportation industry; however, with a couple of tweaks, this could be a viable city-wide solution.
India’s residents have taken recent action to start an “anti-honking movement” and it’s time for the government to recognize this and pass some legislation. In southern Bangalore, residents last year launched an “I Won’t Honk Campaign”, backed by Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid, which aimed to get drivers pledging not to use their horns unless completely necessary. In New Delhi, a group of campaigners strikes the streets a couple of times each month, plastering cars with “Do Not Honk!” stickers.
People in general are plain tired of honking— just ask Ellen. A bad habit is not a permanent habit, and if authorities can work to put a dent in this incessant honking, a quieter India lies on the horizon.