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Car horn honk usage is becoming limited in California

If you’re a fan of honking your car horn without direct cause, you may want to be cautious in California following their latest state law.

A woman wearing stylish sunglasses, sitting in the driver's seat looking back toward the camera, with her hand over the car horn.

How often do you honk your car horn?

Some people only do it when absolutely necessary—like to warn a nearby car that they’re in danger. Others play their car horn like they’ve got the solo in the highway orchestra. If you’re the latter, a new court ruling says you should proceed with caution.

Last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a California state law that bans drivers from honking their horns for reasons that aren’t necessary to ensure everybody’s safety. In other words, honking your horn is not an expression of free speech.

The trouble started in 2017, when Susan Porter attended a protest at the offices of Rep. Darrel Issa in Vista, California. On her way home, Porter tapped her horn 14 times in support of the protest—and received a ticket from a deputy as punishment.

From some perspectives, Porter got off easy. Her ticket was dismissed after the deputy missed the court hearing. Still, in 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed a lawsuit on Porter’s behalf alleging that California’s law violates the First Amendment.

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Porter lost her case—and her appeal to the 9th Circuit. Her appeal wasn’t entirely without merit, at least according to dissenting Judge Marsha Berzon. Porter lost in part due to the testimony of a police sergeant, who testified that unnecessary horn-honking can endanger others on the road. 

However, as Berzon pointed out, “There is no evidence in the record (or elsewhere, as far as I can determine) that such political expressive horn use jeopardizes traffic safety or frustrates noise control.” In other words, no studies or facts—just Sergeant Beck’s word.

But that was enough for the rest of the court, who upheld California’s law 2-1. After all, as Judge Michelle Friedland pointed out in her majority opinion.

“To be sure, most non-warning honks do not create distractions resulting in accidents, but we discern no plausible means by which California could permit non-distracting honks while prohibiting distracting honks.”

So if you love to honk your horn, be careful: You too might get a ticket! At least, if you live in California.

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Sasha Graffagna is a trilingual content creator with 7+ years of experience creating written, visual, and audio content. She's passionate about productivity, health, and empowering individuals and businesses effectively convey their message to their desired audience.


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