No more ‘horn OK please’

This week, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari made an announcement that left several citizens scratching their heads. Incredulous as it sounds, he said that he was planning to introduce a law under which only the sound of Indian musical instruments could be used as a horn for vehicles, the intent being to make the sounds more soothing.
No more ‘horn OK please’
Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari (File Photo)


Gadkari also said that he was studying the sirens used by ambulances and police vehicles and was considering replacing them with more pleasant tunes that were played on All India Radio.
Twitter had a field day with the remarks as memes carried retorts like Indian roads will soon resemble a wedding procession every day with the sounds of shehnai, dhols and band baaja. Jokes aside, the timing of the announcements is telling, as India is working on a war footing to make cities more livable, less polluted and a little smarter than they had been in the past.
Data released by the Central Pollution Control Board in Feb 2020, revealed that Chennai was the noisiest metro in India. The average noise level during the day here was 67.8 dB (decibel), higher than Delhi’s 61 dB. The CPCB tracks noise levels via monitoring stations located in major metros. The permissible noise level in a commercial area is 65 dB during the day and 55 dB at night. Both T Nagar (with daytime noise of 74-77 dB, and nighttime noise of 67-71 dB) and Velachery (with 81 dB during day and night) emerged as habitual offenders. Chennai has a broad coverage of Metro stations and the noise pollution levels are worse on roads located under overhead stations. The reason is that concrete reflects sound and increases it by up to 3 dB. The reasons for the surge in noise pollution include spike in vehicular population and proliferation of high rises, in absence of efforts to limit exposure to sound.
Two years ago, a study said that the honking of automobiles on the road was a bigger noise polluter than the bursting of firecrackers with decibel levels touching 100 dB, as compared to the sound of the latter which hovered around 90 dB. Two-wheelers were among the biggest culprits, on account of the volume of such vehicles. The damage that constant exposure to vehicular noise inflicts is staggering. If the noise is within the range of 80-90 dB, it can damage the ears within eight hours. For sound levels exceeding 100 dB, listeners can get affected in under six hours, experts had revealed. Apart from irreversible hearing loss, it can trigger elevated stress levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, irritability, anxiety attacks, disrupted sleep patterns and more.
So how do we tackle this menace? It will require both political will and strict enforcement by law and order officials, apart from the support of citizens. In 2017, CPCB banned pressure, multi-toned (air) and musical vehicle horns. Two years later, the Motor Vehicle Act was also amended and as per Section 190 (2) of the amended Act, causing air and noise pollution can attract a fine of up to Rs 10,000, instead of the Rs 1,000 penalty mandated by the old Act (1988).
The state of Indian roads is also responsible for heavy usage of horns, as there is a lack of driving discipline, compounded by shoddy workmanship that results in massive potholes during and after the monsoons. Urban design experts have suggested the installation of sound absorbers made of natural fibre like cotton, husk and jute on metro pillars. Levying heavy penalties on the suppliers and users of loud noisy horns is also a necessity. The Corporation must designate a greater number of areas as silent zones apart from schools, hospitals and religious institutions, and enforce noise-free weekends on arterial roads and residential neighbourhoods. As for citizens, we could borrow a leaf from the pages of developed nations, where it is just deemed plain impolite to honk the horn. So, no horn, okay? Please.

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