Traffic in India’s megacities is awful and unnecessary honking is becoming a menace in Delhi and other mega cities. We all experience it, some drivers feel honking is a method to communicate, while others may use it to vent their traffic frustration.
When we are stuck in traffic, it is unbearable not only because of the miserable waiting but also because chronic exposure to noise can lead to health problems.
To commute, I ride a twowheeler.” I’m worn out and cranky by the time I get home from work each day, says Vikas Singh who lives near Chattarpur and commutes to his office in Central Delhi’s Karol Bagh.
Horns blare all day
A normal day on a main street in Delhi, Mumbai, or in the narrow lanes of the old town of Varanasi sounds like an emergency! Some trucks even have letters written on the back: ‘Horn Please’. The horns of mopeds, autorickshaws, buses and cars are blaring all day.
According to WHO, people shouldn’t be exposed to more than 55 decibels of road traffic noise in residential areas and 70 decibels in commercial areas per day. However, according to a 2018 Central Pollution Control Board report, the noise levels in six Indian megacities exceeded 80 decibels.
According to a research by the United Nations Environment Programme, Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh has the second-highest level of noise pollution in the world with 114 decibels followed by Kolkata 89 dB, Asansol 89 dB, Jaipur 84 dB and Delhi 83 dB. Globally, Dhaka in Bangladesh has the highest level with 119 decibels.
Seema Malhotra, who conducts seminars on the risks of exposure to traffic noise in colleges and universities, wants the Government to take all possible steps to control the unabated problem of honking by organising awareness programmes, displaying ‘No Honking’ sign boards, making announcements through public address system and booking cases against the violators.
In India, efforts are made repeatedly through political action to stop honking. Delhi Police conducts special drives to curb this problem and penalise the vehicleowners using pressure horns and modified silencers. But rules are not always implemented because of manpower shortage and more pressing traffic problems.
No-honking culture in Aizawl, Mizoram, needs to be inculcated everywhere. Here people refrain from honking despite busy traffic. Two years ago, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that he intended to introduce legislation requiring only the sound of Indian musical instruments to be used as vehicle horns.
The Mumbai Traffic Police started an interesting project: they installed measuring devices at traffic signals to record the volume of noise pollution in the area. The traffic signal would not turn green if the noise level increased beyond 85 dB; it remained red. A clever idea, of course, but nothing beyond that! The project has been discontinued since.
At a screening on World Hearing Day in Mumbai in March 2021, two in every three traffic constables were discovered with hearing loss.
Reducing traffic noise is important to ensure road safety in India, which has maximum number of road accident deaths in the world. “Physically, it’s mostly on the ears, but psychologically, it’s pure stress; it increases tension and anxiety levels. It gives us headaches; our blood pressure rises,” says Seema Malhotra. She demands that people who horn excessively should face severe penalties.
Although the Motor Vehicles Act has provisions for punishment or penalty for excessive honking, prosecutions have been few; in Delhi, percentage-wise challans for excessive honking are just 0.25 per cent. Apart from penalties, awareness and enforcement drives are also crucial.
Lack of discipline and civic sense is the root cause; people think honking is the solution to create space on roads. The situation is alarming but the day seems far away when people will learn to use the horn judiciously understanding its repercussions.
(The writer is a freelance journalist, who has been associated with foreign media)