By on February 3, 2020

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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16 Comments on “Driving Dystopia: Mumbai Introduces Signals That Punish Everyone for Honking...”

  • avatar

    The beatings will continue until morale improves.

  • avatar

    What a complete cluster. I think of the TopGear India Special from several years ago, where the lads took a trip on the highway, and had to share the road with trucks, pedestrians, ox-drawn carts, cattle, and everything else you could think of.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember the episodes of Ice Road Truckers from India.
      Iron man Alex Debogorski went running back to Canada after his first stint in India traffic and I don’t blame him a bit.

  • avatar

    Welcome to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

  • avatar

    A collection of thoughts:

    It won’t take much for drivers to figure out that honking as they approach a green light will keep the light green. There won’t need to be any collective cooperation for that to happen.

    Some people will no doubt honk as they go through just to be jerks to cross-traffic.

    90 seconds is a harsh penalty. You’re really trusting a lot of random people if you’re at a busy intersection not to chew through a good chunk of time with just a few poorly timed honks. If people are accustomed to chaotic driving conditions, what’s to stop them from refusing to wait? Through-traffic will have to react if stopped traffic gets fed up enough and starts encroaching the intersection.

  • avatar

    Brilliant! Now, just park a car near the intersection and program it to honk once in a while.

  • avatar

    Another interesting experiment, sounds good to me who lives far, far away…..


  • avatar

    I spent a week in Bangalore a couple years back, and it was an experience, to put it mildly.

    If I was driving, I would not have gotten more than 1000 yards from the airport before getting in an accident. And a typical Bangalore driver wouldn’t go a day in the US without getting a whole stack of tickets.

    Does this mean that the Bangalore drivers were terrible? Heck no! It just means that the rules of the road were simply different from what we are used to; more of an informal convention shared between drivers vs. something codified in a driving manual.

    There, the horn was used not as a “Hey, moron, don’t kill me!” signal like it is here, it’s more like what a bicyclist using their bell on a bike path.

    I will say that the percentage of vehicles with body damage there was much lower than I’ve seen in large US cities, so clearly the drivers are doing something right.

    • 0 avatar

      P.S. While things like lane markings were merely decorative, for the relatively small number of controlled intersections, *nobody* Blocked the Box, so the streets were over-crowded, but not completely gridlocked. New York drivers could learn a thing or two there.

  • avatar

    “showing a basic understanding of a vehicle’s controls and the ability to park is about all it takes”

    That describes exactly my experience when getting my license in the USA after arriving from highly regulated Europe.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s not all. In US you also have to follow traffic code to letter during driving test. Despite of many years of my real world driving experience I was not able to pass driving test at first try – DMV examiner told me that I’m driving too aggressively and cannot change lane when turning on a crossroad. Imagine that – I learned to drive and survive in Moscow – if you are shy you will not get anywhere.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven in Rome, Panama and Mexico City. Traffic signals mean nothing, even to city buses. If you want to cross the street you need to step in to traffic, no one pays any attention to the lights or stop signs. As nightmarish as those places were I’m guessing India is on an entirely different level of bad. Driving in Manhattan was positively therapeutic and relaxing by comparison.

  • avatar

    And that’s the country that supposed to succeed USA as the world’s superpower. – Pax Indiana. Or that was China? China is not much better either. But the rule is that world superpower has to be Britain or former British colony and Chinese do not speak English so China has no chance – no one will understand what they are trying to say.

  • avatar

    I was recently in Vietnam. Even though I think India is probably on an other level of chaos, it was very interesting. Most intersections didn’t have lights and they made it work. I also saw way fewer accidents. They had a road language with the horn that I actually really liked. Depending on how you used the horn it meant different things.

  • avatar

    This might work – but…

    Human nature being what it is, I am inclined to think that this idea will succeed no better than HOV lanes.

  • avatar

    I think some North Korean traffic cops could do wonders for that place.

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