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Horns that quack like a duck

Living on a crossroads in a busy suburb, we hear drivers honking their horns regularly. We even call it “the daily honk”. But what if, instead of the grating klaxon, we heard the quacking of a duck?

Researchers in Seoul, South Korea, were looking for a sound that would be less irritating to passers by. They used the regular klaxon as a starting point and modified it by using a power controller. Next, they tested the sounds on 100 willing volunteers, who rated them on a 5-point scale.

The conclusion? Quacks are less startling and could improve road safety by being less distracting to drivers.

Less distracting

The idea that quacking horns would be less distracting is ironic, considering horns are designed to distract.

As one noise consultant said, the noise should trigger a sense of alarm and draw your attention. We hear not just the noise, but the intention behind it, and respond to the intention rather than just the noise itself.

Wrong use

The problem, then, is not the noise itself but the intention of the driver who honks. By far the majority of honking going on has nothing to do with real danger. So why do people keep honking? To:

• Let you know you’ve been an idiot
• Show everyone around you’ve been an idiot
• Let out their anger at other things, like traffic jams.

It is almost never an emergency.

Road Rules

Even so, the Road Rules say you must not use the horn (or any other warning device) unless:

• You need to warn other road users your vehicle is approaching
• You need to warn animals to get off the road
• The horn is part of an anti-theft or alcohol interlock device fitted to your vehicle.

While it probably will not be adopted, we think a quacking duck noise might remind drivers to lighten up a bit. Happier drivers must surely contribute to road safety just as effectively as a quacking klaxon.

What noise would you like to hear?

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