May: "Used your car horn? Pay a fiver" | Top Gear
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Saturday 9th December
James May

May: "Used your car horn? Pay a fiver"

Published: 10 Feb 2015

So: this bloke walked out right in front of the car, and immediately revealed a serious shortcoming with my BMW i3. You don't hear it coming.

At town speeds, the Car of the Future is virtually silent. Even the tyres don't make a noise, because they're thin and eco and are concerned with higher tasks than merely gripping the surface. If you actually want to run over people, I can recommend the i3. But you'll have to delete that collision-avoidance system, which I'm sure is there exactly because of this sort of thing.

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What was I to do? Blow the horn? Didn't really seem right. Obviously, he was ever so slightly a bit of a pillock for walking into the road without looking, but in the end he was a soft, fleshy (and, in this case, slightly pissed) pedestrian, and I was in a car. He didn't really deserve to have a trumpet blown up his bottom.

It then occurred to me that I've never blown the horn on the i3. It might make a noise like the sliding doors on the Starship Enterprise. I found a side street and pressed the button. Parp! It sounded like the horn on a car. How disappointing.

What the i3 needs - what every car needs, really - is some sort of polite town horn, the equivalent of a cough or an ahem, or my mother shouting "I say" out of the window. Tonally, a typical car horn sounds confrontational, and like an admonishment. A bit bugle-like. Bugles are used to rouse armies and send them in to attack, I just want to warn a bloke that he's about to die in the future. I need something like an oboe, or a kazoo. Perhaps Sir Simon Rattle could have a think about this.

Meanwhile, back in the car, I changed lanes, perhaps quite suddenly, but a big coach full of Italian trippers was doing something to my left. There was a decent gap. But the bloke behind leant on his horn for a good 15 seconds or so. Blowing a trumpet at me. How rude.

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Now I don't want to sound like the wheel-shufflers at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, but the Highway Code says the horn should be used "only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence". Sounds like a reasonable rule.

When, in fact, do you really need to blow your horn? If someone is about to reverse into you, I suppose. What about when the drunk bloke walks into the road? I could "warn him of my presence" or I could just stop, which is a better idea. If I'm blowing the horn, I can't be devoting all my energies to not running over him. Unless you actually are in an orchestra, braking is usually a better course of action than blowing a trumpet.

Really, the horn is a bit like an airbag. It's nice to know it's there, but you don't really want to make use of it. So it's also a bit like the Women's Institute as well. Blowing the horn is something that should happen once or twice in a lifetime, in those moments when you really can't stop and someone is going to die if they don't leap out of the way in the last yawning instant. Yet people are doing horn all the time.

Let's turn this around. Let's give everyone on foot a trumpet. Now, as you walk around the shops, and people stand in front of you, blow it at the backs of their heads. They blow trumpets at the back of your head as well. Man stands in front of me in the pub, I'll blow my trumpet at him. Taking a bit too long at the cash machine? Someone will blow a trumpet at you. Imagine how annoying this would get. You'd expect to get your face punched pretty quickly, and that's as it should be.

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So I'm proposing a system. You have to pay to use the horn. Every car is fitted with something a bit like a household electricity meter from an old film about post-war British misery - A Kind of Loving, maybe. You feed it with fivers, and every fiver allows you to blow the horn once. Touch the button, and it costs you a fiver. Every additional second within each horn blow costs another fiver. You can only pay in advance, or your horn is disconnected by Offtoot.

You can use the merry town horn for free. But it hasn't been invented yet.

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