Driving Dystopia: Mumbai Introduces Signals That Punish Everyone for Honking

India is famous for having some of the most lawless roadways on the planet. While the primary culprit is likely the country’s lax licensing requirements — showing a basic understanding of a vehicle’s controls and the ability to park is about all it takes — the bar has been set similarly low for what’s deemed acceptable outside the classroom. It’s not uncommon to see occupancy limits surpassed, often with excess passengers riding on the outside of a vehicle. Roads and automobiles are also often poorly maintained, encouraging accidents that jam up traffic.

Honking is a problem too, with India’s Central Pollution Control Board banning the practice in several cities for 2017. The group worked off data from 2011 that alleged Delhi’s busiest areas averaged 100-108 decibels of ambient background sound (with some spots going up to 125db). That’s enough to cause physical harm to someone subjected to the noise for just 15 minutes — and most of the sound is believed to stem from persistent honking.

Drivers in India still honk more than seems reasonable, however. With so many trucks in the region operating without mirrors, it’s often the best way to announce your presence to a vehicle that probably doesn’t see you. Sadly, the practice has spilled over into less life-or-death scenarios. The Mumbai Police feels it has a solution: Rather than attempting to ticket the vast number of drivers who like to hammer the horn, regardless of circumstance, it’s instead introducing smart stoplights that monitor roadway noise. If one catches people honking while waiting for a red, the countdown to green resets and everyone is forced to wait a bit longer.

“Mumbai is one of the noisiest cities in the world and lot of this noise is at the traffic signals where Mumbaikars honk even when they see the signal is red,” said Police Commissioner Madhukar Pandey. “Jointly with the FCB Interface, we have launched this innovative solution to arrest the honking menace.”


FCB Interface, the marketing company Mumbai hooked up with to implement the new hardware, published an ad on January 30th that’s been picking up steam online. The majority of the initial feedback was positive, though many commenting on the ad had the same questions we did.

“[What’s] to stop cross traffic (the side that has green) to start blowing their horns in groups to keep their side green? I mean from the video nothing happens to those that honk when the light is green for them so this could cause infinite green lights for the other side,” noted one person in a Youtube comment.

While that seems a little too organized for a random group of motorists to pull off on their daily commute, it’s not unthinkable. The system is designed to catch noise coming from directly in front of it; it’s theoretically possible that high levels of ambient noise could still trigger a reset. We also can’t guarantee motorists waiting for the red will be considerate enough to wait for the countdown.

Dubbed as the “Punishing Signal” by those pushing it, the system only needs 85db of noise to trigger, giving drivers another 90 seconds of waiting. Considering plenty of areas in India routinely exceed 100db, one can anticipate plenty of delays over the first couple of weeks.

According to Mumbai Police, the devices are being utilized in an experimental capacity to test the public response. They’re only installed at the city’s six noisiest intersections (for now). India’s continued efforts to improve signage and build more areas for separating roadways from footpaths will probably do more to promote safety, overall. But it also has to tamp down the honking and needed to start somewhere. Just maybe, the Punishing Signal won’t send drivers into rage after the car next to them resets the timer, spreading the message that honking is to be saved for special circumstances.

[Image: sladkozaponi/Shutterstock]

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