Our Efforts Stall, but Cultural Values Begin to Shift

Silence the Horns Editorial, January 2017

In 2016 there was little progress with automakers eliminating use of horn sounds for lock signaling and other non-emergency events. Only two brands transitioned away from horn use with lock signaling, bringing the total of Big Three brands to four, all Lincoln vehicles. And a new car 1 on the market adopted "honk your horn remotely from your smartphone," indicating that some consider the technology to be an industry norm, and that otherwise intelligent product developers are not interested in safety concerns or regulatory implications related to using a safety device - a car horn - for infotainment and convenience purposes. Silence the Horns' attempt to engage with NHTSA in 2016 resulted in our being referred to another agency because NHTSA does not have the resources to address the issue.

Automakers remained very interested in sound, safety, health, and public health, although not necessarily connecting all of the dots. Mercedes-Benz created technology capable of reducing or preventing hearing damage should a crash occur. 2 But Mercedez-Benz continues to use horn honking with its North American vehicles' lock signaling, and the carmaker promotes its remote horn honking smartphone capability. 3

In the summer of 2016, Buick marketers organized a wellness event to promote Buick's "brand values," including "quiet, calm and comfort." 4 But General Motors brands, including Buick, continue to contribute to GM's horn honking oeuvre, which began with the MyChevrolet App in 2011 5 and includes the latest demonstration of the ability of Buick owners to honk a horn over great distance even though the car owner will not hear the horn, the Buick RemoteLink App. 6 Note that GM "car finding" apps are capable of locating cars visually, but decision makers choose to continue to include the horn honking feature 7 8 (any car can offer visual vehicle location through an app, not just GM).

Ford Motor Company is involved with admirable global public health initiatives. But at home, the carmaker trails rather than leads. Having transitioned four of its luxury models' lock confirmation away from horn honking, one Lincoln model and all Ford models continue to use horn honking, so Ford is now participating in the two-tier sound model where high end models use a quiet electronic tone and affordable brands use horn honking, reflecting the idea that high income people can afford relative quiet, while middle and lower income people have to tolerate horn honking noise in their living space. Honda used the two-tiered sound system for years, and Volkswagen currently uses this system.

Like General Motors, Chrysler remains unconcerned about its noise footprint, but does not organize "wellness" events, and therefore at least is consistent about its environmental philosophy.

But when you look at other sectors, the picture is much better. Across the United States and Canada, retailers have been implementing "quiet hours" and "quiet Santa" holiday shopping experiences for those with autism spectrum disorder and other needs requiring a quieter environment. 9 10 11 Other retailers participating in the trend are Costco, Target, and Toys "R" Us. 12 13 14 15 16 Health benefits of quiet are being incorporated into other public spaces and workplaces. Heathrow Airport is one of several public places to create a program that includes quiet areas for a noise-sensitive population 17 A UK police station created a "wellbeing suite" for prayer and contemplation for officers to recover from job stress. 18

Some might say that such practices are not enough, but we think that this reflects progress. It won't be long before others who are not considered to be sensitive realize that they enjoy the peace and quiet. These examples reflect just a small sampling of a practices that have been implemented in healthcare settings and other places where the restorative benefit of quiet is already an established value.

People are becoming more sophisticated about sound, quiet, and noise. We talk about noise sources when a noise source is our focus, and noisemaking people and product designers get a lot of attention. But more and more people are recognizing the health and monetary values of quiet. Many people are becoming aware of using sound as a means of relaxing, enhancing meditation 19 and falling asleep. 20

Automakers have long known the value of the quiet interior ride. Our culture is shifting, and various sectors are incorporating the use of quiet in public spaces, whether out of recognition of special populations or to enhance healing, rest, and restoration. As other sectors become more aware of soundscapes, automakers have a choice as to whether to catch up or whether to lag further behind.

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