As we head into the holiday season, a few things are almost guaranteed: cooler weather, busy schedules, and serious traffic.

Last year, over 38 million people traveled by car over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. And with the same influx of vehicles on their way to grandmother’s house (or Black Friday sales) predicted for this year, you’re likely to encounter more car horns than usual.

Car horns: Noisy nuisance or driving essential?

When used responsibly, car horns should notify drivers of danger, helping to prevent accidents and keep everyone on the road safer.

But that’s only when used appropriately.

When used “inappropriately” or incessantly , car horns are not only irritating, they can be distracting and dangerous as well. For example, if you’re busy honking at a driver who’s moving too slowly, you’re probably not paying close attention to the road. Not to mention the fact that the sound of a car horn can be jarring and you don’t want to unnecessarily disrupt anybody operating a 5,000-lb metal box on wheels, unless it’s to avoid some sort of danger.

Car horn etiquette

Before you take to the road this holiday season, here are a few dos and don’ts of using your horn.

  • Do use your car horn to let a driver know they’re fading into your lane.
  • Do give a quick beep if you see a pedestrian unknowingly walking into a dangerous traffic situation. For instance, if a car’s reversing out of a parking spot and a pedestrian’s walking straight into their path, it’s ok to give a quick honk to keep both parties safe.
  • Don’t honk at pedestrians who are lollygagging while crossing the street. Yes, it can be annoying. And yes, you might be 5 hours into a car ride where your copilot has insisted on belting out an endless stream of show tunes. But still, don’t do it. As the California Department of Motor Vehicles states, drivers should not use their horn “to honk at pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists unless necessary to avoid a collision. Remember that your horn sounds much louder outside a vehicle.”
  • Do be a patient and considerate driver. Honking your horn in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam won’t do you much good anyway. Your car horn should be used as a tool to avoid danger, not express anger (get a stress ball for that).
  • Don’t immediately start honking if the car in front of you doesn’t accelerate as soon as the light turns green. You might not be able to see what’s happening on the road ahead and you might startle them and cause an accident.
  • Do know your local car horn laws. In New York City, for example, drivers who use their horn in any situation that’s not an “emergency” can be cited and fined $350. While these tickets aren’t widely issued (which explains the endless honking in Times Square), it’s good to know (and abide by) your local driving laws.
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Have a safe and happy holiday season

The holidays are a lot more enjoyable when you make it to your destination safely and without too much unnecessary stress. In addition to being mindful of your honking habits, be sure to take your time, pay attention, and maybe give yourself a 10-minute cushion to avoid rushing on the roadway.

If that’s not enough, find out how you can channel your inner Buddha to help ease holiday (or everyday) road rage.

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about Jennifer

A Motor City native, Jennie spent a few years knee-deep in automotive before heading to San Francisco to join the Esurance team as a copywriter. In addition to words, she’s a big fan of running, Detroit Tiger baseball, and the Trader Joe’s cheese aisle.