A Moment of Silence, Please

Monday mornings are hard enough for most people. Shabbos and the weekend are over. Everyone is back to school, back to work, back to traffic and looking for parking. … And suddenly, out of nowhere, adding insult to injury, there’s someone leaning on their horn.

Then there are those moments when we’re sitting in our homes or our offices, or walking down the street and enjoying the weather, quietly minding our own business or having a pleasant conversation, and we almost jump out of our skin because someone starts blasting a horn.

More, as we’ve all seen, one horn leads to a cacophony of horns. Honking begets honking. It’s music to no one’s ears.

The Tanna Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel tells us in Pirkei Avos, “All my days I grew up among the Sages and did not find anything better for one’s person than silence.” How cogently this bit of wisdom applies to drivers!

Of course, for many years, there have been laws on the books discouraging noise pollution. It has been illegal in New York City to use “any claxon installed on a motor vehicle” except to warn of danger. The fine for unnecessary horn-blowing is a steep $350 per summons. But it’s a law that is rarely enforced. Unless, of course, enough people are complaining about it.

People have been complaining to me. And, despite all the noise from the horns blowing, I hear them. To be frank, it bothers me, too. It’s not just everyone’s shattered nerves and disturbed peace, it’s also my belief that bad behavior leads to more bad behavior.

Mayor Giuliani often spoke of the broken windows theory, a concept introduced in the early 1980s by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The theory held that preventing small crimes such as vandalism, toll-jumping, and unnecessary noise violations helped maintain an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby discouraging more serious crimes from taking place. I tend to agree with this theory, but even if the theory proved false, a general atmosphere of order and lawfulness is still a pretty nice thing.

In addition, the misuse of horns lessens their value. When horns are blown frequently and for the wrong reason — the only right reason is to signify danger — people just become annoyed; they no longer expect danger. It’s the horn that cried wolf.

From what my constituents and I have observed, the biggest honking offenders seem to be car services whose drivers often come from outside of our community. They’re in a terrible rush and they tend to blow their horns excessively and impatiently as they race toward their next destination. And when they arrive, they blow their horns again. “I’m here,” they blow. “Come out! Let’s go! Beep-beeeeep!”

Why not just phone the fare — a cell phone to cell phone call, because everyone has one — and say, “Your ride has arrived.” Why indeed? Because the horn is convenient, and old habits die hard.

For the people impacted by these sudden and prolonged horn blasts, the matter can be very serious. I’ve heard stories from mothers who had just given birth and desperately needed sleep but were deprived of it because of honking. There are also mothers who finally put a child to bed, after a long struggle to do so, only to have their children woken by horns. In addition, there are people in our community who are nurturing sick relatives, to say nothing of the infirm themselves. Unnecessary honking negatively impacts these people’s quality of life.

To address this quality-of-life issue, I am calling on the Taxi and Limousine Commission and asking for stricter enforcement of the existing laws that are too often neglected by taxi drivers and car services. Once the TLC addresses the issue, I’m hopeful that word will spread among these car service drivers and things will get a little quieter. And then we can hear each other again.