Are Air Horns and Train Horns on Cars Illegal?

Car trends tend to come and go, although some linger far longer than we would like. Beefing up car horns with air or train horns is a new trend, but is it actually legal? And why do we have horns that sound so obnoxious, anyway?

Do car horns have a purpose?

A red and cream train, with a train horn, coming down the tracks
A train | Getty Images

While it’s easy to assume that car horns are added to vehicles to give other drivers a piece of your mind, that’s not what they’re for. They were first designed to let pedestrians know that you’re approaching in a vehicle, so they know to get out of the way.

For context, car horns were initially manufactured and added to cars when vehicles first began to hit roadways. Many people were still riding horses and, even more, walked wherever they needed to go. Cars were still a new invention, so having a way to let others know you were coming was imperative, so they could get off the road before they got hit. Horns were used to fix this situation.

AAA went into a little more detail about the original car horns and stated, “The first car horns came in three different varieties. Air horns had a plastic bulb the driver could squeeze to emit a sound. Exhaust horns consisted of cuts made into exhaust pipes that elicited a sound similar to a steam engine. Finally, there were electric horns, which are most like what we have today.”

Back then, it was crucial to honk your horn. Nowadays, you’re more likely to get some dirty looks for honking too much, even if you’re using it correctly.

Having a car horn that can be heard over traffic sounds is crucial, especially for electric vehicles, which are incredibly quiet. Making modifications to your vehicle to have louder horns, like those used on trains and ships, may seem like a great idea. It’s also fun to watch people’s reactions when you blow the horn.

Is it legal, though? The answer isn’t that straightforward.

According to HornBlasters, where you can get a train or air horn, this answer depends mainly on the state where you live. The laws are always subject to change, so it’s important to keep up with any updates.

HornBlasters reports that states which frown upon ‘loud’ or ‘harsh’ sounds include Arizona, California, and Florida.

With that being said, your horn needs to be heard at least 200 ft away. Some states like Georgia explicitly state when you can and can not use your horn. The primary use is when you are about to be in an accident and trying to prevent it. It’s not for scaring friends and family, and using it for that purpose could land you a ticket.

What exactly can you do with a car horn?

Laying on the horn is typically a no-go. Not only is it considered rude by most people, but it can also be considered illegal. 

Another instance when you can get in legal trouble for honking your horn is when you’re greeting others. Yes, that happy little quick beep at a friend is against the law.

So what exactly can happen to you if a police officer pulls you over for honking the horn? You’re probably not going to get arrested unless there are other factors involved, in which case honking will be the least of your problems. However, you could face a fine, so it’s best to just lay off the horn unless you have a legitimate reason.

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