Use of motorists horns for warning when passing bikers

Use of motorists horns for warning when passing bikers


I have recently toured in western China. Over there it is almost the norm for passing motorists to use their horns briefly to give cyclists a poilite warning.  Initially my group found this very irritating.  But after some days we became used to it and appreciated the warning.  It was essential on narrow roads that feature many bikes and pedestrians including old and vulnerable.  I started wondering if this would work in NZ.

We now have a recent spate of cycle accidents and data thet close passing by motorists is the number one fear by cyclists.  Tio make this work motorists would have to be persuaded to use their horns reponsibly and construtively, and not as some macho instrument of superiority or abuse.  For cyclists we would need to use the warnings sensibly to single out and move over.  If this developed correctly we could get to the point where we would not be surprised by speeding close passers.

Failure to prtovide an adequate warning could then be used by police as a reason for a traffic offence and an indication of culpability.

I know that I will have my detractors, but anything that can mitigate this risk is worth considering.

If this is supported then CAN would need to discuss with AA and RT Forum.  I know for a fact that some trucking companies already make this a practice.


Lynn Sleath

Kapiti Cycling Inc.

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First, while we've had a spate of reported careless/stupid/selfish use of motor vehicle occurrences ("accidents") which should not have occurred and are a tragedy, we need to keep perspective - to do otherwise is to play directly into the hands of those who would label bicycling as dangerous and divert attention from the real problem. We've already had Campbell Live talking about "dangerous roads" - tarmac is not dangerous, its inanimate and just sits there passively, its those who (ab)use the tarmac that are dangerous. We of course struggle more than most because of the helmet law - designed to support the view that it is the cyclists fault - sorry folks that support it, it is stupid (actually lethal) to do so (especially as it doesn't and cannot work).

You write "motorists would have to be persuaded to use their horns reponsibly and construtively, and not as some macho instrument of superiority or abuse" - so you already know why this is a bad idea. If motorists were being responsible and constructive they wouldn't need to use their horns. Our fast roads are not so narrow that sufficient passing distance is not always possible, and are slow roads are slow enough to hear the car/the car to pass safely closer.

Remember the AA's objection to the 1.5m passing suggestion - it is simply not reasonable to require motorists to slow down from 100Km/h just so they can pass safely (and I'm not making that up - direct reported quote from the AA which they saw no reason to deny).

Yesterday I waited while a motorist drove onto, around and off a roundabout in front of me, one hand holding the mobile the whole way. At the w/e I was hooted at by a "delayed" motorist as I descended a narrow winding busy hill road. My speed? 56Km/h... (yes on my bike, though I don't do that often I'll admit). Same hill another motorist past me leaving me plenty of room, pity about the car coming the other way though... And then there was the car with a kayak on top coming uphill on the wrong side around a bend... When driving I expect to be overtaken, after all I keep to the speed limits, surprised my AA (Any speed, Anywhere) membership hasn't been revoked. Idiots, and more idiots, taught it is their "right" to be stupid by the likes of "Leave That Speeder Alone" (since changed its name to protect the guilty)

We have a problem alright, but remember motorists kill far more car occupants then they do pedestrians and cyclists - suggesting this is a cycle safety problem is starting wrong, it is a road safety problem.

Now lets see: AA, LTSA, Government, Helmet Church, drivers, media - think I've offended a good enough selection... I'll go look for my flame retardant suit now ;-)

I think you missed the point of my proposal.  I believe that a number of motorists (my wife is an example) feel that using the horn is associated with anger and impatience - when it should be a tool to warn other roadusers.  The AA could promote this to motorists.  And we could get the NZTA and others to add this practice to the card that was published recently on "motoring tips around cyclists".

I am originally from India where use of horns is liberal. Believe me, it can be no fun having a horn blown right next to your ear-drums. Add to that air-horns and it is a recipe for disasters. I am not saying kiwis use horns like indians, but as your wife says, it is associated to anger and impatience. As Stephen says, maybe a gentle tap may be acceptable, but it doesn't take long for the gentle tap to become a long beep.

And in a place where it is very quite especially in the country side, even a gentle tap can amplify itself n number of times.

Remember, NZTA rule not to blow horn next to horse and rider - because it can startle the horse. The same can happen to cyclists as well.

What did I come to say - no, I don't think we should encourage motorists to blow horns to warn us, rather encourage them to look out for us.

I get that a lot as I ride my recumbent trike somewhere on the way to Cape Reinga.

People are being friendly to me but tooting right next to me is not the best way to show the appreciation. Just toot after you have passed me or rather wave, use indicator or flash hazard lights. Anything non audio sign would be better as my ears are ringing after that hoot and I take that as agro sign initially before I see your friendly wave.

I am thinking about having a theatrical performance next time. When I hear the blast of the horn right behind me I would ride into the ditch! ( If it is safe and I am not going fast).Then I pretend I had a heart attack!

Sorry, I didn't miss the point of your proposal at all. You are proposing that we deal with motorists' irresponsible use of their vehicles by teaching them to be "responsible" by sounding their horn to forewarn of their irresponsible behaviour...

Remember the AA's position over 1.5m passing - it is unreasonable/unacceptable to expect motorists to slow down so they can provide a safe passing distance. 1.5m is only acceptable if roads are widened to enable it at 100Km/h with oncoming traffic. I.e. you don't drive to the conditions, you modify the conditions to how you (selfishly) wish to drive or you just accept bad driving as the only "reasonable" option and other road users be damned.

In NZ will not requiring motorists to sound their horn be simply interpreted as sufficient warning to the cyclist to vacate the carriageway? Folks are already calling for cyclists to be banned from more roads...

Remember we are one of a few countries in the world to have a bicycle helmet law despite the Government knowing more lives and money would be saved if motorists wore them and other countries use NZ as the example NOT to follow. You are suggesting that in this environment motorists can be taught to use their horns responsibly? They still haven't mastered the cellphone ban, the speed limits, or the give way rules, to name a few...

Am I a realist/pessimist/devil's advocate? Are you a tad optimistic?

Keep cycling folks, remember motorists still kill more motorists each year than pedestrians and cyclists combined! :-)

I ride a lot on 100km/h roads (including SH1 up to Picton for last month's CAN Do) and would not ride without a mirror. Yes, I've noticed a few trucks using their horns to let me know they're there. just a light tap or double tap, recognisably different from the more usual blast. I'm not sure all motorists could make the distinction though. 


Badmouthing the AA and LTSA is not a particularly creative or responsible position for CAN members to adopt.  That just maintains the gap between the two groups of roadsusers, when we really need some understanding and willingness to cooperate.

Yes, the truckies seem to be able to provide a short sharp harmless horn sound that doesn't terrify me.  They know the riisks on the road and also how to handle their width without hitting me.  I got one toot yesterday that prevented me from entering an intersection where the truck needed the whole road width.  And wherever possible I wave to thank the driver.

likewise, where  a truck has been considerate, with horn-tap or some other way, then I acknowledge it with a wave. It sometimes works the other way too. on my SH1 ride, I'd move to the left of the shoulder if there was room and signal left if I knew the truck was constrained by oncoming traffic, and I sometimes got a horn-tap in acknowledgement.  

Twenty years ago the AA heralded the then forthcoming bicycle helmet law with the following justification of need: a Palmerston North postal worker riding on the *pavement* was hit by a car *reversing at speed out of a driveway*, and it is claimed had they not been wearing a lid their injuries might have been worse. One can learn many things from that incident, one of them is not the need to pad up people who on are the pavement. Ask why the AA thought that was a good justification.

Race forward 20 years and the AA is expressing concern of the imposition requiring safe passing distances would be on motorists.

The LTSA/NZTA/LTNZ/MoT are no better.

We still have a high general road toll, the helmet legislation - the only meaningful action in those 20 years - has failed to improve the lot of bicyclists.

The only milestone in those 20 years is NZ has become the international standard of what NOT to do.

Two decades, zero real progress.

Yes, I wouldn't recommend bad-mouthing as a tactic, but surely it is time to get tough, to not shy away from positions because they are unpopular, in short to advocate regardless of cost - good advocates are not liked, they are respected.

If there is a bully in the playground does the school remove the other children or deal with the bully?

Yes, I laid it on thick to get the point across, which is it surely is time to consider a tougher stance and I don't think suggesting the bullies sound their horns is doing that.

As to some trucks, and I'd include some car drivers, yes they can use their horns responsibly; and they get treated with respect and courtesy in return.