A friendlier car horn that sounds like a quacking duck could be one solution to road rage and noise pollution, according to a new study. Researchers chose the familiar quacking sound based on a survey of 100 people who all agreed they preferred it to the honk released by today’s klaxon car horns.
“For 100 years, the car klaxon sound was almost [universal],” coauthor on the study Myung Jin Bae of Soongsil University in South Korea told Fatherly. “The automobile klaxon’s recipe was simple, and it had the advantage of being able to make a loud noise at low power, but the level of loudness could not be easily controlled. In this study, when a driver presses a klaxon, a loud sound of 110 dB or more is not transmitted directly to a pedestrian.”
For the study, recently presented at the Acoustical Society of America in Boston, Bae and colleagues devised the scientifically ideal car horn by playing proposed sounds for 100 volunteers, and analyzing how they responded to each sound using brain wave tests, a stress index, and a survey that allowed participants to rank each noise by preference. One clear winner emerged: a wimpy horn that sounds strangely like the call of one determined duck.
Bae and colleagues are pretty proud of themselves. “We have designed a new Klaxon sound of the existing car to develop a new Klaxon sound that can immediately alert the pedestrians of the danger while reducing the unpleasantness and stress of the sound,” he says. Bae says the horn can be built into any current car design, but it’s unclear when, or if, we’ll hear it on the road.
However odd it may be to hear a collective quack arise from crowded streets during rush hour, it could be worth it. Scientists suspect that noise pollution from traffic can have a negative impact on our health, and studies suggest obnoxious car horns may cause accidents rather than prevent them. As AAA puts it in a guide for honking at bicycle riders: “If you blast the horn at close range, you’ll startle the cyclist. He may look over his left shoulder in surprise and steer inadvertently into your path. Worse, he may lose control and fall directly in front of you.”
Which is a solid argument against the ‘klax and in favor of the quacks. Won’t our kids be safer on their bikes when a jerk in a Mercedes is no longer able to sneak up on them and slam on the horn with it burping out a quack? Not necessarily. Because there’s also something to be said for a horn that can scare our kids out of their smartphone-induced stupors and makes them look at oncoming traffic before it hits them.
Mike Stigwood, a consultant with noise-pollution specialist MAS Environmental, told The Guardian that a less offensive car horn is a terrible idea.“No, absolutely not,” he said. “You need a noise that triggers the sense in an alarming way and immediately draws your attention—which is what sirens and car horns currently do.”
Ducks, not so much