India gets creative to stop honking on its streets

You would think that the non-stop honking in major cities across India – the culprits being the thousands of rickshaws, public buses, c...

You would think that the non-stop honking in major cities across India – the culprits being the thousands of rickshaws, public buses, car and motorbikes that clog the roads – would now have faded into background along with the rumbling of engines and the occasional mooing of cows; you would think it was like the score of a movie – always there, but no longer noticed. Not so. Drivers use the horn as often as the accelerator pedal and perhaps more than the brakes. Honking is done so extensively that foreign car manufacturers, like Audi and Volkswagen, actually fit their vehicles intended for the Indian market with stronger, more durable horns.

Project Bleep: a beeping and flashing gadget to encourage mindful honking.
Noise pollution on the roads is such an annoyance that some groups are working urgently to curb it, but habits are hard to break. One such initiative in Mumbai is called Project Bleep, which essentially is a gadget in the form of a red 'frowning face' button on the dashboard that beeps and flashes when the driver sounds his car horn. According to Mayur Tekchandaney, the founder of Briefcase, the design company behind Project Bleep, the device is “to make the driver conscious that he just honked and make him deliberate why he did it.” While Techandaney had always been irritated by the noise on the streets, it escalated into more than mere inconvenience when his two young children were disturbed by the unceasing cacophony outside their residence, in a neighbourhood that has shops that open past midnight; this led to his eureka moment. Along with co-founder, Anand Damani, the Project aims for behaviorial intervention, which they believe is more effective than a simple awareness campaign.

Damani said, “The gaps within the sounds (of beeping) make you alert; it makes you think that if I honk again, this thing will annoy me.” They compare it to seat-belt indicators in cars which beep when the car is moving with unfastened seatbelt. The Project's trial has had promising results, showing that honking was reduced by more than 60% for every individual tested. The next step would be for them to influence policy and enforce the gadget for every car, because a driver would always think that the problem is with ‘other’ drivers and not himself.

Another campaign uses a harsher approach, adding punishment for those who honk too many times. Jayraj Salgaonkar and his team of experts and engineers, also in Mumbai, have created the OREN horn-usage meter that comes with a prepaid limit. The meter is meant to be fitted in the tail-lights and if the driver exceeds the honking limit, the hazard lights start blinking to alert the traffic police, who can then cite the driver for ‘noisy driving’.

Mumbai has more than 2.3 million vehicles plying its roads, more than double the number seven years ago, and 12.7 million people crammed into the 480 sq km that is Greater Mumbai, which is only about the size of New Orleans or the whole of Singapore. It is not the only city that craves some peace and quiet. A group of campaigners in New Delhi distributed “Do Not Honk!” stickers while cricketer Rahul Dravid backed a ‘I Won’t Honk’ campaign in southern Bangalore.



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