Dec 19, 2022 - News

Why honking your horn is illegal in Washington

Illustration of different traffic signs with emojis on top.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Have you noticed some people around here seem super insulted when you tap the horn to let them know the light has turned green? They could be among the passive-aggressive but law-abiding drivers of yesterday's Seattle.

Why it matters: Conflict around the proper use of horns is one visible, or rather audible, sign of the culture clashes that arise in rapidly growing regions.

  • Drivers of "old Seattle" tend to be law-abiding and polite but also slow and passive aggressive, Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, told Axios. They do not appreciate flippant horn use.
  • Newcomers to Seattle, by contrast, often drive faster and use their horns more frequently, he said β€” sometimes out of hostility, but also as a friendly heads up.
  • Both are okay, but problems happen when the two meet, Hallenbeck said.

Driving the news: It's illegal in Washington state and Seattle to make β€œan unreasonably loud or harsh sound" with a car horn or to use it for any other purpose than to "ensure safe operation."

  • Police do not typically enforce the honking laws absent other violations of the law, Washington State Patrol trooper John Dattilo told Axios, usually because they'd have to see it and "most people aren't honking their horns when we're there."
  • By the time police do get involved, it has often escalated, sometimes into tragedy, Washington State Patrol spokesperson Chris Loftis told Axios.
  • To be fair, many other states and municipalities have laws banning unnecessary honking, including NYC where it is routinely ignored.

The big picture: Road rage incidents β€” fueled by honks, hand gestures or other aggressive actions β€” have soared precipitously over the last few years, Loftis said.

  • In King County this year there have been 193 road rage incidents in which a firearm was shot, according to WSP data. In 2018, there were 79.
  • Loftis cited the shooting of an 11-year-old boy who was injured on Nov. 25 in Tacoma as an example, as well as that of a 9-year-old who was wounded in Renton earlier in the month.

Be smart: Do not respond to aggressive drivers, whether they've cut you off, flipped you off or honked rudely, Loftis said.

  • "A horn is a tool to avoid danger," he said. "It's not a tool to condemn others."

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