Is It Illegal to Beep Your Horn at a Cop Car?

There certainly is no shortage of videos online featuring citizens and law enforcement encounters. Getting a ticket for failing to yield, driving erratically, or running a stop sign is not news to anyone. But what about getting a ticket for honking?

There are some instances online where drivers are getting tickets, prompting the question, is it illegal to beep at a cop? There’s more to understanding when you can and can’t honk than you might think. After reading these stories and examples, you might think twice before laying on the horn.

Is it illegal to beep at a cop car?

Here’s the short answer. No, it’s not necessarily illegal to honk at anyone, law enforcement included. But some nuances may result in tickets. For example, each state varies regarding language surrounding when beeping or honking the horn is warranted. The U.S. Department of Transportation says laying on the horn is permitted when it’s intended to provide “adequate warnings” to alert others. 

So, if an unaware pedestrian is walking into oncoming traffic, it’s OK to honk. That would be an example of your car horn as a tool to provide “reliable warning signals.” But what about all those instances in which police officers give citations to those beeping the horn at them? If it’s not illegal to beep at a cop, why all the tickets?

Some have received tickets for honking

ABC Action News shared the story of a Massachusetts woman who found herself in court, fighting a citation for honking. She said the incident occurred when she had to swerve her vehicle to avoid hitting the police car. In her heightened state of defensive driving alertness and the heat of the moment, she also beeped her horn, probably longer than it should have been done. The officer ended up giving her a ticket for “excessive and unnecessary” use of her vehicle’s horn. 

FindLaw shared another driving incident involving a blaring car horn and a police officer. A man used his horn to prompt an officer in front of him to proceed at the green light. Except, this officer didn’t. Instead, he hit the brakes. The man honked again, this time resulting in an official traffic stop. In this case, the frustration boiled over, resulting in three officers arriving on the scene and the driver getting a ticket for “excessive noise.”

Some situations when honking can be illegal

So, it begs the question again. Is it illegal to beep at a cop? If you’re using your horn in frustration or excessively without cause, you can be cited for “excessive noise.” In addition, any situation that remotely feels like road rage or a heated exchange from behind the wheel can be interpreted as improper use of your horn. 

Again, each state will likely have specific language about what kind of horn usage is permitted. Missouri, for example, has traffic statutes in place that cite, “no vehicle shall be driven in a condition or manner that excessive or unnecessary noise shall be made.” Of course, those include loud engines and exhausts. But the statute also includes horns. IDriveSafely points out that Michigan and Washington also have similar regulations in place. 

While your car horn serves a purpose, there is a time and place to use it. Don’t beep your horn in anger, and avoid extended sounding of your horn, to avoid any potential citations for excessive noise. It’s not illegal to beep at a cop car. But beeping too long, out of frustration, will undoubtedly call attention to yourself and may result in an unwanted ticket.

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