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 or 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?