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What could be used to replace the car honk and still allow a driver to alert the others?

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jnikola Jun 29, 2021
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Inspired by the session on noise pollution, I started thinking about how could we reduce traffic noise.

It is known that by the higher number of electric cars on the road, we will have fewer engines roaring. The second problem is tire noise, which will probably be reduced by the invention of novel materials or patterns used in tire production. But what happens with the vehicle sirens? If we drive electric cars with silent tires, is there a need for the loud and irritating honking sounds, or we can figure out something smarter?

Honks/sirens are used to alert people in other vehicles. Sometimes they are needed (e.g. police, firefighter, or an emergency vehicle approaching) and sometimes they are not (nervous drivers horking because it is hot outside and they just can't stand the 1-second delay of a vehicle in front).

  • Is there a way how we can replace the honks in personal vehicles with something with higher signal and less noise?
  • Something that will not distract or be used as an anger exhaust, but will specifically alert people to an incoming danger?
  • Also, can you think of a better way how a passing police car could alert the other vehicles?
  • What could be a scenario where you don't need car honk anymore?

Creative contributions

Charge them

Spook Louw
Spook Louw Jun 29, 2021
I was going to suggest some kind of system where cars within a certain radius receive a warning and an "alarm" then goes off inside the car (Just a beep or something to let the driver know to be alert). That doesn't really work though as part of the function of a car's horn is to warn pedestrians as well. In some areas that are less urban, horns are also used to chase animals out of the road.

After coming to this realization, I don't think there would be any way to get past the sound element of a car's horn. It is integral to its functionality. That doesn't mean that horns' contribution to traffic noise cannot be helped at all, one system that might be worth considering is charging people every time they use their horn to discourage needles and excessive honking. The city noise we have grown accustomed to of horns blaring in the background has nothing to do with warning other vehicles or pedestrians. These noises are produced by selfish and self-righteous drivers who feel that their frustration justify these obnoxious noises. Even a small fee would deter people from just honking because traffic is moving slow. The money earned from this could be put towards the road accident fund or something like that.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
I will just add some thoughts to what's already been said by others. I think alerting the driver from inside of the car about which car is honking at them is a good idea. Often when you hear a honk you are not even sure who and to whom is honking, so an interactive screen (which is already a default feature in new cars) could show you which car is honking, then at least you'd see if it's directly behind you, somewhere aside or further away. The driver who intends to honk could also choose the exact car on their screen to which the honk is directed, but this wouldn't suit fast situations.

I think just a blinking light on a dashboard or similar rather passive means of notifying is not a good idea, because the honk is intended to alarm, so at least a medium-harsh sound alarm should be played out throughout the car's interior speakers (the driver could choose from the selection of sounds in the settings). If the honking car is further away from you, then the system could produce only a gentle sound, but if it's right beside or behind you it should be alarming.

Cases with animals and pedestrians are a separate issue, as already noted, but cars honking at each other create the most sound pollution and the majority of those honks are perhaps unnecessary. I liked Shubhankar Kulkarni's suggestion of alarming pedestrians through a similar system, using their smartphones or earphones that they are wearing. The inability of pedestrians to hear/see their surroundings might be a real problem for cyclists and more recently a lot of people started using electric scooters that can go as fast as cars on pedestrian tracks and would do much harm if bumped into a person. And the same is valid for cyclists or scooter riders themselves, they might have earphones and hence not be able to adequately react to their surroundings.
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salemandreus3 years ago
I get what you're saying about it being integral to the functionality as there are situations where hooting seems the most effective way to warn someone of danger.

But this session also makes me recall an occasion of my dad flashing his car lights on a quiet suburban road to get some birds to move out of it. I asked him why he didn't hoot and he said that the visual stimulus was more effective with them than an auditory one. This made me think that honking wouldn't be integral to all the functions it is used for though certainly to some (especially where warning someone of danger they probably can't see or won't see fast enough to react to). See my creative contribution on multi-sensory feedback and also on customisable sensory options which I think would be the ideal solution and ideally (we can only hope!) also cut down on the abuse of hooters and mayyyyybe even lead to less road rage - something which I suspect is often triggered by sensory overload while driving.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni3 years ago
I completely agree here. Horns are not necessarily for other cars but to alert pedestrians and animals, too.

Here is a way around: We need alternatives to horns/ sirens in the city area. Currently, we have technology that stops (decelerates and presses the brakes of) a car automatically if it detects an obstacle in front. This system can be upgraded to identify whether the obstacle in front is another vehicle. This can be done by identifying the number plate or by identifying the wheels. Once the obstacle is confirmed to be a vehicle, if the driver tries to honk, there won't be any noise. Instead, a light will flash in the vehicle that is blocking the road ahead (maybe a small red light on the dashboard, similar to the left-right indicators). If the obstacle in front is not identified as a vehicle, when the driver tries to honk, the horn will be activated. This will require a Bluetooth-like technology that activates the red light in the vehicle ahead.

I think the police, firefighter, and ambulance vehicles should have the siren since it can be heard from a mile and the people on the road (both in vehicles and pedestrians) may give way to these emergency service vehicles.
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Multi-sensory alert feedback

salemandreus Jul 01, 2021
Having more than one type of sensory feedback simultaneously as an alert could prove incredibly useful, and smarter cars would have the capability to allow more advanced types of feedback. (Potentially as these might even be slightly customisable, although I am not proposing this as a core feature or prerequisite merely a consideration).
For example, supposing someone hooting also sent a light tactile vibration or pulse through the driving or riding apparatus from the direction of the person hooting. A smart car could for example facilitate this similarly to how the vibration on a cell phone would work (and as we know these can be very uniquely customised to very specific patterns in order to distinguish different types of messages).

Even better, a smart mirror could highlight digitally which car behind you was hooting through a digital outline or glow on the specific vehicle in the mirror, so you could know instantly where the sound was coming from, which would be essential if they are actually trying to get your attention towards them directly. Perhaps this slight glow could be colour-coded so you could feel the vibration feedback near the back of your chair and seat and to the right if that is the direction of the hooting car, and your mirror would simultaneously outline that car in blue as it hoots, then that glow would slowly fade. If a second car directly behind you hooted you would receive the feedback directly behind you and that car would be highlighted in a slight green glow/outline on your mirror. Then you could easily distinguish that two people behind you are hooting. If multiple cars are hooting you would see each of them lighting up and if all the hooting is coming from behind you you might deduce that something is wrong with the back of your vehicle (or you are driving below the speed limit in the fast lane).
For another example, potentially a smart HUD windscreen could highlight potential hazards on the road including when a car is approaching an intersection too quickly and has not started braking for a traffic light. Given self-driving cars would already be making these calculations, it would make sense to let drivers in on this visibility in manual mode, or co-driving mode, or in general for extra accountability of the self-driving system and safety for the passengers. Though this last one would not be designed to replace the hooting function, as passengers gain more trust in smart car systems (and hopefully fewer people opt for driving and we all become safer with established self-driving car technology and less human error) there will be fewer occasions for hooters to be used in general.
The benefits of this would be:
  1. Accessibility and customisability for people who have impairment in one or more of their senses.
  2. Useful to the general public when driving through poor visibility (eg fog) or audibility (in noisy traffic for example) or tactility (when driving through construction or somewhere where heavy vehicles and other strong vibrations are present).
  3. In case one form fails to sufficiently alert the others are also present. We already have this in car systems having a combination of warning lights as well as sound feedback and tactile feedback - not only hooters but also various sounds and tactile feedback an engine/gears/brakes makes which are healthy or unhealthy, the click of indicators as well as the flashing lights on the dashboard. We don't currently have simultaneous multi-sensory alerts for hooters, flashing lights and hazard indicators but we do have these separate warning systems, showing that we recognise we may need to signify emergencies in different ways, even if not simultaneously. Given we have multisensory feedback/alerts with success on so many of our automotive systems it’d be worth looking into how we could implement this for warning alerts as well.
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A screen with sorrounded cars

syed hammad husain Jul 02, 2021
Alert others by a screen where one can see cars around him and can see what car close to him want him to act
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Self driving cars fully controlled by AI

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jul 08, 2021
Soon enough this problem will be solved. When AI becomes a 100-fold better driver than a human we will see cars without steering wheels (and horns). The only thing a human will be able to do is to set the desired destination and enjoy entertainment on the way there.
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General comments

Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
About electric cars with silent tires producing almost no sound - this is dangerous in itself, because pedestrians, cyclists, animals, etc. couldn't hear cars approaching them, I've heard (although not sure if this is true) that electric cars are sometimes made to produce additional sound as they drive to warm the people of their presence, this is a vital issue especially in the transitional period between internal combustion engines and electric engines because people are used to hearing when a car is approaching from afar.
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jnikola3 years ago
Povilas S Yes, I heard that too. I think it's just a solution for the transition period because people are used to hearing loud engines. With technological advancement, I am keen on believing that silent driving will be preferred.
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