Honking car horn illegal in Washington despite rising road rage trends

Dec 20, 2022, 6:22 PM | Updated: Dec 21, 2022, 2:23 pm


(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu via Getty Images)

By law, it is illegal to use your horn in Washington state outside of emergency use — and local residents are blaming transplants for the increased aggression on the roads.

“Drivers of ‘old Seattle’ tend to be law-abiding and polite, but also slow and passive-aggressive,” Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, told Axios. “They do not appreciate flippant horn use. Newcomers to Seattle, by contrast, often drive faster and use their horns more frequently.”

PEMCO Insurance conducted a poll last year and found 68% of Seattle drivers believe it’s at least somewhat appropriate to honk, whereas about half (46%) said the same in 2017.

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The numbers are similar in Portland, as 61% said it’s appropriate to honk at others compared to 52% in 2017.

“Basically, if you’re in an emergency situation, someone’s about to hit you, you’re about to hit them — that’s when you’re restricted in the use of your horn,” KIRO Traffic Reporter Chris Sullivan said on The Gee and Ursula Show. “You’re not supposed to use a tap-tap on the person sitting on their phone at the red light that hasn’t moved for five seconds, which I do, and a lot of us do. But again, the language is reasonably necessary. So there’s a lot of wiggle room in there because I have never heard of one officer ever pulling over anybody for using their horn.”

Washington ranked ninth in a Forbes study into the states with the most aggressive drivers, with Utah, Missouri, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nevada, Maryland, and Indiana as the only states logging a higher score.

According to a survey released by AutoVantage, the 10 cities with the most road rage are San Diego, Calif.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Miami, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Atlanta, Ga.; Detroit, Mich.; Dallas, Texas; and New York, N.Y.

AutoVantage tracked changing lanes without notice, tailgating, talking on a cell phone, honking, cursing/yelling, and waving first and arms as metrics to determine road rage.

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“I would argue that we don’t honk anywhere near enough,” said Gee Scott, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show.

“I wish people would use their horns a little bit more when, for instance, people are merging over. It’s a tool to be used to prevent accidents and dangerous situations,” Sullivan responded. “But yes, technically, the law is it’s only supposed to be used when you’re trying to prevent something bad from happening.”

According to Forbes, more than 1-in-5 drivers have seen someone cause an accident due to road rage. 23% of drivers know of someone in their state that has become injured in a road rage incident.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Honking car horn illegal in Washington despite rising road rage trends