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Exposure to honking can ruin your hearing

July 10, 2008

City traffic sounds (noise of engines of trucks, cars) from inside of a closed vehicle are about 85-90 decibels, which is ofcourse within permissible limits as long as one hears it for about 8 hours a day. But honking creates sounds of 110 decibels and above, depending on the horn. And a human being cannot tolerate this decibel level for more than half an hour a day. If the sound is above 115db, 15 minutes is the maximum. Exposure for longer periods leads to gradual hearing loss. Those who live in high traffic areas are the worst sufferers.

Sound baffles to absorb sound pollution are at best just a band-aid solution and plus they cost. The best medicine is prevention. Stopping the honking!

The Mumbai Traffic Police conducted a no-honking day in Mumbai, a first of its kind, but it was only partially successful due to the crowded roads jampacked with pedestrians. A lack of walking space (pavements being taken over by hawkers) means that pedestrians cannot avoid walking on the roads. It’s also quite impossible for them to constantly keep looking behind them to see if a vehicle is coming. Mostly they have become quite inured to vehicles and move only if they are forced to.

However the Traffic Police is not giving up and is going ahead full steam with their no-honking awareness campaign. After all, motorists honk as a reflex action now, whether its needed or not.

They’ve managed to get a fleet of 20 taxis called For She (run entirely by women) and 70 male drivers of the cab service ‘GOLD CAB’ in Mumbai to take an an oath yesterday that they SHALL NOT honk (unless when absolutely necessary). This is a picture of the For She bravehearts sent to me by the Mumbai Traffic Police (I subscribe to their newsletter):

For She

For She

This gif image is part of the campaign of the traffic police. (wait for a few seconds and it will take you to the next one:

Mumbai may have the lowest number of vehicles amongst the metros, but I’m sure that when it comes to vehicle density it will score very high as road space is limited…in fact there is only 1.92 m of road for every 1 car! It’s a good thing Mumbaikars are not buying as many cars as their fellow citizens in other cities are buying! I am sure one of the reasons for this is that there is no space to park them. And also because of slow traffic movement.

Here are the number of vehicles city-wise (statistics from Bangalore Buzz):
Delhi: 48,09,000 vehicles
Bangalore: 31,06,564 vehicles
Chennai: 30 lakh vehicles
Kolkata:18 lakh
Hyderabad with 17.64 lakh
Mumbai: 15 lakh

(Photograph is by me and taken in Pune.)

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Hoarding epidemic in India!
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27 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2008 11:14 pm

    What happened to watermarking?
    Good post! Some people really suffer from an uncontrolled urge to honk. Some car drivers drive along honking at every 2 m. I dislike those people specially who honk at a railway crossing. I mean what do they want? Should the staff manning the crossing give in to their honks and forget his duty & open the barrier? Or the rest of public is not moving cuz they want to stand there and enjoy the view??? Not to mention the special horns guys put on their bikes which make all sorts of weird and loud noises. Honk only when necessary!!!

  2. July 11, 2008 1:09 am

    A lack of walking space (pavements being taken over by hawkers) means that pedestrians cannot avoid walking on the roads. …

    Nita, this is the biggest problem in India. We don’t respect pedestrians who are doing the most eco-friendly and laborious job: walking. You should see some roads in Bangalore. The last time I was there, two-wheelers — the most indisciplined of the lot along with autorickshaws — were all over the walkways!

    I can’t imagine why all of them shouldn’t be ticketed.

    Some of Delhi’s pedestrian walkways are so high that you literally have to climb on to them from the road level. Naturally many just prefer walking on the road. Imagine the condition of people on wheelchairs.

    Unless pedestrians, bicyclists, and other slow-moving or non-motorized vehicles are provided for, all we will get is more people wanting to get into cars and more honking.
    India needs some road disciplining badly. Real badly.

  3. July 11, 2008 1:17 am

    Its a wonderful initiative! We need many more like these…

    Me being a Delhiite can vouch for the fact that that city certainly needs lesser honking. People need to calm down a little and realize that the horn is not a remote control that moves people out of their path.

    In general, people need to start being nicer and gain a sense of belonging towards the city. They need to realize that they make their city how it is…be it in terms of traffic, cleanliness, corruption or anything else. Once people and their mindsets change, their cities become better places to live in.

    Having said that, i should add that this is not just a phenomenon of Indian cities. Newyork is like Delhi/Bombay in this regard. You stop an extra second at a light and people start going crazy ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. July 11, 2008 2:16 am

    this country is so full of them
    maybe it is because 9of 10 licenses are given on basis of bribe
    that people don’t know any rules or care for them

    i dont know if they think they have a divine right over the road when the footpaths are blocked and there is double parking in a galli where parking shouldn’t happen
    worse people think that a horn is a magic wand to shoo away the traffic jam
    i hate honkers especially unnecessary and incessant ones

    if i encounter an incessant one i make sure i walk on the middle of any galli im passing by and i have done it more than once how much ever ive piss that guy off

  5. July 11, 2008 7:11 am

    Reema, if you can’t see the watermark, it means I have successfully watermarked it! Its right across the man in the green shirt. And I know what you mean by the honkers who honk when there is nothing anyone can do! I wonder what their psychology is.

    Snigdha, in India the rights of workers (pavement stall owners) are of paramount importance. Followed by the rights of car-owners! People who walk on the roads can go jump – that is the attitude. Myopic!

    AD, thanks. As you said, it is a problem in all Indian cities but I didn’t know it was a problem in New York too. People honking because the car in front of them stops for a second!! Wow, that’s like here. In fact once I was a victim of a road rage incident because of this. It was a broad four lane road and hardly any traffic and I was driving slowly, as toll naka was near. I am one of those who believes in using the brake as little as possible. But a car behind me, full of men and women (now I think they must have been drunk) got enraged that I was driving slowly and were honking madly. All they need to have done is to simply overtake but for some reason I think they got mad that I was ignoring their horn. So what they did was overtake and bring their car in front of me (abusing me while overtaking) and then drive at 10 kms per hour! Ofcourse affter a minute of this, I simply overtook them and drove away and luckily the toll naka had come up! I’ve written about this incident here.

    Prax, I agree most people on our roads don’t know how to drive and don’t know the basic rules. Even these driving schools are hand in glove iwth RTO officials and give licences without properly checking the expertise of learners. And as for the honkers, I think divine right is the word. Hawkers and honkers – these two have right of way.

  6. July 11, 2008 7:27 am

    Well Nita – To tell u the truth even I should take an oath that I SHALL NOT honk (unless when absolutely necessary).I think I tend to honk a bit too much (sometimes….not always). Time for deep introspection.

    Btwn, was surprised to know that kolkata has more vehicles than Mumbai! Time for correction of (my) perception.

    Even I found it difficult to believe that Mumbai was low down on the list. I think maybe they have taken the statistics of only the actual city and not the surrounding areas of navi mumbai, thane, belapur etc which are satellite towns and vehicles from these cities move freely within mumbai. – Nita.

  7. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 11, 2008 8:28 am


    The statistics are not wrong. Thanks to its favourable geography and well-developed (though by now grossly inadeauate) public transport system, Mumbai does have fewer motorised vehicles than its population size would warrant. Whether the numbers include vehicles registered in Thane, Belapur etc. is, I am sure. easy to find out from the concerned RTOs.

    Until as recently as the last turn of century, it was common knowledge in planning circles that Delhi had more vehicles than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai put together. Now, with Bengalooru, Hyderabad, Pune and Amdavad also joining their ranks, the serial order may have changed. But Kolkata has more than Mumbai? I think could be a definitional problem, like maybe Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority vs. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

    Thanks Vivek! The figures do not include belapur etc, of that I am sure. I am surprised about Cal, one needs more info on that! – Nita.

  8. July 11, 2008 8:34 am

    Ahhhh there it is!! Sigh! How did i miss it??? Good work.

  9. vivek mittal permalink
    July 11, 2008 9:01 am

    In case of total No of cars (not all vehicles) Delhi is still ahead of chennai, mumbai and kolkata put together or entire states of Gujarat and west bengal put together…because of the culture of owning more than one car in a family.

    Until delhi was made an independent state, traffic used to be chaotic, but since Delhi got it’s own Govt..Everything has undergone a metamorphosis for better (particularly from 2001 onwards)..City now has a reasonably smooth flow of Mammoth traffic

    And supreme court has done a tremendous job in cleaning the air in Delhi, otherwise 10 yrs back Delhi used to be one of the most polluted cities in the world..and today the city has one of the lower pollution levels even in the country

    If it comes to honking, personally i never feel disturbed from it.

  10. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 11, 2008 9:40 am


    I thought Belapur may be included, being part of the CIDCO development an all that. Thane almost certainly would not be, as it is a different district, a district HQ city, and also has its own Municipal Corporation. However, as you say, these things have to be checked out.

    Vivek, Belapur is part of the Navi mumbai municipal corporation as far as I know so I do not see it as being included as it is a different city. – Nita.

  11. July 11, 2008 10:00 am

    lol,never knew Mumbai will have only half of chennai’s…But it still seems to have a lot of traffic jams,worst than chennai ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. July 11, 2008 10:08 am

    I get so whipped by the errant car alarm. There are few things as obnoxious and painful to my ears.

  13. July 11, 2008 11:13 am

    On a Bangalore road you find the loud beats from a swift car with 1000 watts speakers, along side you can find a call centre cab driver honking without taking a break, on the side an autowalla will be blasting 91.9 FM magic (The rexin is at its verge to explode out).
    When you think its over, a two wheeler will zip past you with a screeching sound, blasting his horn and yes its an RX100. You know how loud it is.
    And then the lights turn yellow. The car behind you will start honking.

    You canโ€™t blame him he is just following the โ€˜Theory of honkingโ€™.
    The speed at which his hand moves from the steering wheel to the horn cannot match the time you take to hit the accelerator pedal.

  14. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 11, 2008 12:50 pm


    //On a Bangalore road you find the loud beats from a swift car with 1000 watts speakers…//

    …and have you noticed that there seemed just one kind of beat favoured by all the music lovers who have these speakers installed in their cars?

  15. July 11, 2008 1:31 pm

    Nita, Just saw ‘This’ post of yours in WordPress Front Page.
    Did you see it?

    P.S. you can delete this comment, just wanted to let you know.

  16. July 11, 2008 1:34 pm

    Too much sound pollution everywhere,
    in every xountry, i think…
    ENJOY THE SILENCE, if u can…
    Have a nive friday!

  17. July 11, 2008 2:50 pm

    Driving or for that matter even walking is a highly risky affair, not only for the immediate safety of one’s life, but also for one’s long term health. The stress level induced by the honking, the need to be continuously super-alert avoiding the haphazard drivers on all the sides, and the sheer unruliness of the traffic one faces over the decades, has something to contribute to the lower life-expectancy found in cities.

  18. July 11, 2008 3:40 pm

    Nita, I really hope it will get better in India with this problem.

    When I first came to India, I got a sound-shock ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. July 11, 2008 5:48 pm

    honking I have no problem with, what I do hate is people ‘bumping’ their stereos so loud my coffee mug shakes. I like loud music but my coffee mug should not be shaking inside of my own house. Great post,… now how about a no loud stereo day?

  20. July 11, 2008 5:53 pm

    You are absolutely right about motorists in India honking as a reflex, whether needed or not. I wish the police would make excessive honking an offence. Unfortunately, I can also see how the traffic police will take advantage of this rule to collect bribes ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  21. July 11, 2008 6:35 pm

    Vivek M, you may not mind the honking, but exposure can be harmful to health. You are probably young and feel nothing will happen but have you heard of tinnitus? You get that when your hearing is affected and the effects are often seen after 40.

    Vishesh, Mumbai has slow traffic and thats because the area is so limited! Mumbai is but an island and it can only surive with good public transportation which has not kept up.

    gunny93, agreed, a car alarm is the worst!!

    Xylene, that was well put! I can almost hear the sounds the way you described it!!

    Rahul, thanks for telling me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    francina, a nice week end to you too! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Nomad, you will be amazed if you know how much of the Indian population suffers from tinnitus and deafness! Its not just honking, its the crackers during festivals and weddings too! There are some sounds which damage the ears permenantly even if one hears it for a few seconds. Those diwali bombs for example but people continue to buy them and burst them in front of kids!

    Axinia, India is a noisy place alright! So many people actually.

    Ed, yeah, loud music is acceptable to society today but I’ve heard many young teens are getting affected. A no-loud stereo day is just what we need to raise awareness!

    Lekhni, collecting bribes is a past-time iwth the police! But bribes or not, we need no honking days!

  22. wishtobeanon permalink
    July 11, 2008 7:08 pm

    Good to hear about the ‘no honking’ awareness program. Hopefully all the other metros and cities will pick it up too!
    Hopefully, they’ll start having awareness programs on the noise contributed by loudspeakers in temples, mosques or during festivals etc.

    Overall too much sound in India! Lots of work to do here! But people need to become aware of the adverse effects first. I have seen that they simply look upon the loud sounds as a privacy issue and not a health issue. In fact exposure to continuous loud sounds is also believed to affect mental health, causing irritability etc.. – Nita.

  23. July 11, 2008 10:26 pm

    horns are pretty annoying..
    its irritating when u are in a traffic jam and the cars in the back keep on honking…
    i never knew that honking produces this much of sound.

    Those shrill horn are worse, which some motorcycles have. They can damage the ears. – Nita.

  24. July 12, 2008 3:59 pm

    People start honking even when a bus stops to let the people get down. What do they want to do? Should the people jump off a moving bus?
    As soon as the traffic signals turn green, the cars start honking. Won’t the drivers in the first row see that the signal is green? Or have they conspired to make everyone late?
    I think its really dumb to honk just for the sake of honking. ITS RUDE. Its a pity that very few people know the meaning of the word.

  25. July 13, 2008 12:13 am

    very true amit
    do they really think their honking will move the traffic out of the way magically – this i always wonder
    People should be made to use dipper light instead

  26. Sakhi permalink
    July 13, 2008 1:03 am

    Like reema i also couldnt find the watermarks! ๐Ÿ™‚

    and i still cant.. need to get my eyes checked! with all the honking around me not only i have lost my hearing power but also the eyesight! sigh!

    ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. July 13, 2008 8:17 am

    I am sure most of us who are exposed to urban traffic are partially deaf. And we don’t even know it because of t our natural tendency to speak loudly. And what about the stress on the nerves and resultant effect on out blood pressure ? A drive on the roads of Bengaluru for an hour gets me so worked up that I need to rest all day.

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