In this series of articles based on the Lab’s 100 Urban Trends glossaries, our writers are focusing on “trends” that are meaningful to them, and sharing insights on urban issues that shape our lives. Today’s trend: 10,000 Honks.
Last December, when international cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar visited the Mumbai Lab for a public chat about the city with curator David van der Leer, the cricketer threw forth a wild idea: to curb Mumbai’s rampant noise pollution, he suggested building every car to have only 10,000 available honks. He felt this would encourage drivers to honk more sparingly, and suggested they might even be forced to buy any additional honks they wanted thereafter. The concept was a little absurdist at face value, but we liked it so much that it eventually made its way into the Mumbai Lab’s glossary of 100 Urban Trends.
Still, creating a carbon cap-and-trade-like program around honking that would violate safety standards (horns do exist for a reason, after all) and favor the rich is probably not the answer to our problems. But those problems certainly need to be addressed. Anti-honking signs in New York were so ineffective that they were recently removed, and the 2008 oath by Mumbai cabbies to lay off their horns was a nice idea, but has made little difference. In the many cities around the world that are plagued by the social normalization of honking as a form of communication, it’s become clear that Sachin was dead right: we are in dire need of a new, perhaps more forceful tactic.
We may actually be much closer to peace and quiet in our overly-honked cities than we think, however, thanks to Anand Damani and Mayur Tekchandaney of the Mumbai branding and behavioral design firm, Briefcase. Their recent invention of a horn reduction system called Bleep may fundamentally change cities as we know them today.
The system, which can be installed on the dashboard of any car, is simple: every time the driver honks, a light and a beeping sound go off in the car, and the driver must lean over to press a button in order to make the light and noise stop. It stems from the most basic facet of behavioral psychology: in order to curb a habit, you need to become aware of it.
“Whether in advertising, or messaging, or campaigning at different levels, there is a lot of communication happening that is aimed at changing behavior. However, that communication is quite ineffective. So if you’re going to make rational arguments to people about how they should or shouldn’t do certain things, there’s a gap between them agreeing with you in a rational sense, and acting. For them to act, that needs a nudge or some sort of intervention,” Damani told me in a recent joint interview with Tekchandaney. “It’s outsourcing your self-control, in a way.” Check out the video above for more on how the system works; it has been shown to reduce honking by over 60 percent in test runs.
Just how close are we to seeing (or hearing) this reduction, in reality? Well, Damani and Tekchandaney say they are currently in early talks with the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission to get the system implemented, and the Mumbai transport commissioner of road traffic police has shown keen interest in the device. While they’re being realistic about the difficult path that lies before Bleep, they’re also shooting for the stars—starting on their home turf. “It would be a dream to have it mandatory in India,” said Tekchandaney.
Surely public support for such a law wouldn’t be hard to drum up, with the right campaign. Now if only there were a celebrity out there who might be willing to endorse it . . .