ARE TRAIN HORNS ILLEGAL?
Other than “What is your loudest horn?”, the question we get asked the most is, Are train horns illegal? It's definitely a good question to ask. Just because you want to be heard on the road doesn't mean you want to be ticketed or arrested. It doesn't help that the laws are different in each state and can be very vague at times. You want to do the right thing and obey the law, but you also want to make sure people take notice when you need them to. So what do you do?
We have seen a lot of people either assume that air-powered horns are completely illegal or that you can use them however you like! So as the experts on all things loud, we decided that it was our duty to set the record straight. We'll do our best to let you know what your rights are in every state along with the best practices to use your horns according to the law.
LETTER OF THE LAW
It's no wonder that people are confused about the legality of having a loud air horn or train horn on your ride. It can take a little bit of digging on the internet to see what the actual law states and the road there seems to be paved with misinformation.
As we were doing the research for this blog, we noticed that there isn’t really a good resource to see what the horn laws are in your state, so we went ahead and made one! To check out the most current laws that we could find for each and every state, click HERE or on the image below.
Too long to read? That's ok. The rest of this blog is here to give you the CliffsNotes version of all the legal jargon. Just keep in mind that this is only meant as a guide to give you a better understanding of what the current laws are. We are not your attorney, so before you do anything with your horn that might be questionable, we recommend consulting with a lawyer from your state, just to be safe.
Speaking of safe, did you know that by law you are required to have a horn and in most states it has to be heard from at least 200 feet away? That's right, it's actually illegal to have a weak horn. Why? Because horns are an integral part of road safety. The people that like to rant and rave about noise pollution forget that the roads themselves are naturally loud and with the cab of vehicles becoming more and more soundproof and drivers becoming increasingly distracted, you need a horn that can cut through the noise.
If you took a look at our state by state laws linked above, you might notice a common theme throughout most of the laws regarding horns in each state. In fact, doesn’t it look like they copied off of each other's work? Some laws are exactly the same word for word, while others have different wording, but they are all basically saying the same exact thing.
Let's take an example from the state of Georgia, which has two main components that are seen in almost every state law: Georgia code 40-8-70: “Horns and warning devices - (a) Every motor vehicle when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with a horn in good working order and capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of not less than 200 feet, but no horn or other warning devices shall emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or a whistle. The driver of a motor vehicle shall, when it is reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation, give audible warning with his or her horn but shall not otherwise use such horn when upon a highway. No vehicle shall be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a vehicle any siren, whistle, or bell except as otherwise permitted in this Code section and Code Section 40-8-94. No vehicle shall be equipped with a theft alarm signal device which is so arranged that it can be used by the driver as an ordinary warning signal.”
There are two important lines to observe here. The first, “Every motor vehicle when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with a horn in good working order and capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of not less than 200 feet, but no horn or other warning devices shall emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or a whistle. Is where the meat and potatoes of the law is, specifically the line regarding “ no horn or other warning device shall emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or a whistle” While there are specific parameters given to the minimum distance your horn can be heard from, when it comes to maximum distance it should be heard at or maximum volume, it seems that that is to be determined by the officer. While some may argue that any train horn has an “unreasonably loud” or harsh sound, in our experience, it is going to come down to where it was used and how you are using it. Are you on the highway using your horn to avoid an accident or blasting through the suburbs at three in the morning? Even a train horn may not sound “unreasonable” on a busy highway for most officers of the law, but if they are getting noise complaints because you are showing your new horns off at your local Walmart, they have no choice but to investigate and ticket you.
Another common theme seen throughout the horn laws across the states is the line: “The driver of a motor vehicle shall, when it is reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation, give audible warning with his or her horn but shall not otherwise use such horn when upon a highway.” This section has two important points to be aware of. First, you are actually required by law to sound off your horn in order to avoid an accident. This again shows how important horns are to road safety. The second line makes it clear, however, that your horns should only be used to prevent an accident. That's not just train horns, that's ANY horn. So, according to the law, when you honk at the guy on his phone, not paying attention to the green light, you are technically breaking the law, regardless of if its a train horn or not.
That’s it. That is basically what every law in every state comes down to. Your horn shouldn't be unreasonably loud and you should only use it to prevent accidents. As we tell our customers that ask about their train horn’s legality, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. We set out to make the roads safer, not more dangerous. Everyone loves a good train horn scare, just make sure if you are going to use your horn in any way that is not prescribed by the law that you use caution and be aware of who is around you.
If you do happen to use your horn in a way that seems “unreasonable” to the officer that hears it, you could be issued a citation. Just like a speeding ticket, getting a ticket for your tint being too dark, or your ride height being too high. Not every cop is going to ticket you though. In fact, we have quite a few customers that are current Law Enforcement Officers. At the end of the day, as long as you aren’t being a total pain to those around you, you are probably not going to be bothered. By the way, totally unrelated, but have you seen our "I Love Cops" T-Shirt?
While owning and installing an aftermarket air horn or train horn is not illegal, some states have periodic inspections that your vehicle has to pass. For some of these inspections, having a train horn hooked up to your ride or, in some cases, having it wired up to be your only horn will cause you to fail inspection. If you are in a state that you can’t have aftermarket horns on, there is no way around it. For the inspection, you are not going to be able to have them on. If you are in a state that only requires it to be wired separately, you are all set, just make sure you have your system set up with a toggle or a separate push-button so you can still use your factory horn.
THE RIGHT TO BEAR HORNS
Did you know that there is a legal precedent for honking your horn being protected as free speech? It makes sense when you think about it. We make horns to give people a voice on the road and that voice should be protected. Sound far-fetched to you? The Washington Supreme Court didn't seem to think so. Back in 2011, they ruled in an en banc opinion that horn-honking can constitute protected speech. According to the opinion, Examples might include: a driver of a carpool vehicle who toots a horn to let a coworker know it is time to go, a driver who enthusiastically responds to a sign that says honk if you support our troops,’ wedding guests who celebrate nuptials by sounding their horns, and a motorist who honks a horn in support of an individual picketing on a street corner.
So remember that when you blast your horns, not only are you (usually) legally able to do so, it is actually your right and you patriotic duty to do so! Horns of all shapes and sizes can definitely be a form of expression, so find your voice on the road. Be responsible with it and remember, don't blow your temper, blow your horns!