by Jim Motavalli

Mother Nature Network

January 6, 2014

Automakers use the beeps to confirm the alarm, to back up, to alert the driver to this or that. It’s gotten totally out of hand, say a group of determined activists.

I recently noticed that today’s cars sure beep at you a lot. There’s one for not moving quickly enough on the seat belt, one for accepting the legalese on the GPS, one for getting too close to another car, one for leaving the lights on. If you own a Toyota Prius, it beeps at you when you back up, which is why this link offers an illustrated 10-step process for diasbling it.

But just think about what your car’s beeps and squawks do to other people — adding to the general cacophony of modern American life. And it’s a serious health issue, too, because noise pollution increases your risk of a heart attack. Polar bears don’t like it either. Well, some people under the banner of Noise Free America decided to fight back — specifically about the numerous auto functions that sound the horn for the most mundane operation, like telling you the car is locked.

“It’s ridiculous and completely unnecessary, an audio assault,” said Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America. “We’re under attack every time we’re in a parking lot — the constant beeping startles me and gives me a headache that lasts for the rest of the day.”

According to Rueter, cars used to do their thing quietly, but five to 10 years ago automakers started to go horn-happy. “You got a nice little click when the door locked, but now they try to make door locking and alarm arming confirmation as loud as possible. Stand in a lot for any period of time and you’re going to hear one of these things every two minutes.”

Gordon Novak owns a Chevy Volt, and his complaint is that it honks to let him know that charging has started, honks again when the charger is disconnected, and twice if charging is delayed. Issues with the ignition key will cause the horn to sound three times. Novak worries that his night charging sessions will disturb his neighbors and “add noise to the otherwise pristine environment at our mountain cabin.”

Novak says the horn sounds can’t be disabled, as that Prius back-up alarm can. He’s an electrical engineer, but worries that tampering with the circuitry will void his warranty.” Pleas aimed at GM have “fallen on deaf ears.” Maybe they can’t hear because of all the horns going off.

A Ford Focus owner complains that if he leaves his car running with the Intelligent Access Key inside — as, say, when he’s warming it up and cleaning off snow and ice — it honks twice when he shuts the door, twice more when opens the back door to get his snow brush, and twice more when he closes the door. The incessant honking “wakes my neighbors in the morning,” he said.

Jeanine Botta, a New Yorker, is a member of the Right to Quiet Society. You’d think she’d be used to a lot of noise, but she says regular city street noise isn’t as annoying as all those early morning/late night arming alarms.

Botta has gotten way into this. She says some carmakers have seen the light and have switched to an innocuous chirp for functions that used the horn. “Hyundai has transitioned 12 of 14 models,” she said. “Toyota used the horn, then it switched to an electronic chirp in 2000. Subaru did the same thing. Lexuses chirp, and the Nissan Rogue makes a noise that doesn’t bother me at all.”

Botta knows that silent electric cars use man-made sounds to alert blind people and other pedestrians to their presence, but she’d be disappointed if they used the horn for that purpose. “The Nissan Leaf’s low-speed noise doesn’t bother me,” she said. “It should sound like a quiet car.”

Dr. Cullen Ruff, an associate professor at the Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine in Fairfax, Virginia, is taking part (with Botta) in a letter-writing campaign to automakers, and even paid for an online public service investment going after the use of horns for routine functions. That led to Noise Free America’s “Silence the Horns” campaign. “Horn alerts are something we can control, and would rather live without,” Dr. Ruff said. The campaign wants nothing less than “the elimination of horn sounds in acoustic vehicle alerts.”

Can’t cars just flash the lights to let us know they got our remote signal? Works for me. Here’s video on the issue: