On the bike: To honk or not to honk?

It was a quiet Sunday on the roads as I headed home from church at midday.  Nearing home, I was riding a stretch of curvy road, approaching a four-way stop.  Less than one hundred feet from the intersection, I noticed a motorist on a fast approach from the rear.

Something told me that passive discouragement through lane control (i.e., riding toward the left) was NOT going to discourage an unsafe pass.  I added the arm signal for “stop” indicating my intention to stop at the intersection, followed by active discouragement.

The young man behind the wheel chose to ignore all my attempts at communication and sped by me, cutting me off at the stop sign (where he kind-of, sort-of, maybe stopped) before gunning it through the intersection.

Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic at that moment, but I was quite irked by the fact that he felt justified putting me and other [theoretical] road users at risk in the name of gaining ten, maybe fifteen, seconds.

And so I honked.  I have this horn, which I wrote about a long time ago.  My riding mentality has changed a bit since I wrote that post, and I’ve questioned Matthew’s assertion that a loud horn is a “necessity.”

I use mine rarely these days, most often if I’m approaching an intersection where I have right-of-way, or an alley with an exiting motorist, and I am unsure whether the motorist sees me (despite my highly visible roadway position).

I try NOT to use the horn in situations like the one described above, where the motorist clearly saw me but chose to operate his/her vehicle unsafely anyway.  In those situations,  a blaring honk may give me a bit of satisfaction, but it rarely does anything to change the behavior of the motorist or create a civil interaction.

Sure enough, the motorist continued his reckless driving after passing me (and very emphatically giving me the finger), making a high-speed left turn into a narrow alley half a block after the intersection.  I was through the intersection at that point, and close enough to hear some kind of a shout.

When I drew even with the alley, I was horrified to see a family assembling on bicycles outside their garage.  The motorist in question must have very nearly mowed them down, likely the cause of the startled [and angry] exclamations.

Seeing what had nearly happened to an innocent family, I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty.  Had my unnecessary honking fueled road rage and exacerbated his poor driving which almost ended in tragedy?

In the end, I know that I don’t control other road users’ behavior.  Giving this motorist’s previous behavior, there’s a decent chance he would have made the turn too quickly regardless of my actions.

However, the event reminded me why a loud, attention-getting horn is not always a good thing, as it can escalate situations that would be better ignored, increasing hostility and incivility on the roads.  I’m thankful that, at least in this instance, the motorist’s poor choices didn’t injure anyone.


The ride actually ended with a VERY positive motorist interaction.  Stay tuned for that post later in the week!


  1. EcoCatLady says:

    Well… it may have reminded you about the possibility of angering someone with a horn, but it reminded me of the dangers of allowing any idiot to operate a several ton machine capable of killing people!

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