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When not to sound your car horn

If somebody else's poor driving is annoying you, should you honk at them?
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  • A horn should be used only in situations where it will help prevent danger.
  • Don’t honk to show annoyance at other drivers' mistakes or bad driving.
  • Never use your horn if you're driving through a built-up area between 11:30pm and 7am.
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When driving, sounding your car horn can be an effective way to alert other drivers or pedestrians of your presence.

However, you need to understand the rules surrounding when and how you can sound your horn so that you don't break the law.

When is it legal to use your car horn?

In some countries (especially in Asia), drivers use their car horns all the time to alert drivers of their presence. However, the rules in the UK are very different and a lot more restrictive. 

According to the Highway Code, you are allowed to use your vehicle horn when the car is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. In other words, it’s there to warn other road users of imminent danger

What should you use your horn for?

Horns should generally be reserved for emergency situations or when there is an imminent threat of collision or another accident. 

Here are some examples when using your car horn may be a good idea:

  • To alert other motorists or pedestrians of a danger you can see but they haven’t yet noticed.
  • To avoid a potential collision between you and other drivers.
  • When another road user poses a danger.
  • If you’re driving along a bend and need to alert other motorists of your presence.
  • If you’re driving in poor weather conditions (e.g. fog, heavy rain, snow) and want to alert others of an obstruction on the road, or of your presence. 
  • A car is turning right in front of you and there's no time to slow down or stop.

When are you not allowed to sound your horn?

Horns are supposed to have a loud, recognisable sound that tells other drivers not to do something dangerous. 

This means they can be quite disruptive, so there are legal rules which prohibit their use. The exception is when you see an imminent danger and you want to alert others.

In the eyes of the law, you must not sound your vehicle horn:

  • when stationary on the road.
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11:30pm and 7:00am.

Examples of when not to sound your horn:

  • Do not sound your car horn when you are stuck in traffic unless there is an emergency situation where it would be negligent not to use it.
  • Do not use it to express outrage or annoyance at another driver, cyclist, or pedestrian behaviour.
  • Do not use the horn when you want to say hello or goodbye to someone you know.
  • Do not honk at people who are driving too slowly in front of you.
  • Do not use it to attempt to scare animals off the road.
  • Do not use it to make someone stop hogging the middle lane on the motorway.

Will I get a fine if I beep my car horn?

Police can issue fines to people who use car horns illegally. The Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) is currently £30, but the government is currently in discussions over the possibility of increasing this to £50.

If drivers don't agree with the fine being issued, they can challenge the decision in court. The driver will be given a chance to argue their case and will likely have to provide evidence to back up their claim. If they lose the case, however, they risk the fine being increased to £1,000.

In December 2019, the Metropolitan Police disclosed the number of Traffic Offence Reports (TORs) in London for the years between 2015 and 2019. Here’s the data:

TOR offences 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Sounding horn at night 2 2 3 1 2
Sounding of horn when stationary 16 8 1 8 6
Grand total 18 10 4 9 8

It's rare for these fines to be issued, however. In the whole of 2022, for instance, the Metropolitan Police only issued a total of 14 fines for use of the horn.

What if my car horn is broken?

If your car horn stops working, you need to get it fixed as soon as possible. Depending on the age of your vehicle and its make and model, this could be a relatively easy fix. Take it into your local garage for them to diagnose the problem and make the necessary repairs.

Avoid driving with a broken car horn because it exists for your safety and the safety of other road users. Plus, if your car is due an MOT, your car will fail if the horn isn't working. 

You might not know it's failing (or is already broken) until you need it, so here are the common signs of a failing horn:

  • The horn doesn't sound at all when you press on the button—or it doesn't make a loud enough sound.
  • The tone of the sound is different from normal. 
  • The horn works intermittently.
  • It only sounds when you hold down the button for several seconds.

This may be one of the signs you need a new car!

Take a breath

If you find yourself getting irritated by another driver or pedestrian, take some deep breaths until the feeling passes. Honking when angry can make things worse for everyone involved.

The point here is that if there's no danger - if nothing bad will happen if you don't sound your horn - then don't use it! It's just not worth it.

Don't use your horn in anger or as an angry response, even if you're frustrated with how slowly someone else is driving or what they did wrong (and believe me, we've all been there—it sucks). 

Remember, use your horn only when necessary to avoid accidents.

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