Ask any qualified driving instructor, examiner or consult the Highway Code on the correct use of the horn and flashed headlights, and you may be in for a surprise. Sections 90-92 of the Highway Code state that the horn may only be sounded and the lights only flashed to warn other road users of your presence. It also states “Do not flash your headlights in an attempt to intimidate other road users” and “Never sound your horn aggressively”.
Well, unless you’ve been driving on another planet, there is a very real possibility that you’ve neither given nor received either of these communications in their intended manner very recently, unless you happen to have been in a full-on panic brake episode or under exam conditions.
Which is a very bad thing, because it means that two quite major controls of the car have been completely hi-jacked, and are now being used in a manner for which they were not intended.
There’s nothing more unpleasant than being honked at by the idiot behind you at the roundabout because you decided the gap wasn’t big enough, and a judgemental flash of the lights when performing a manoeuvre is enough to send blood pressure soaring. Never mind their annoyance, neither use can be described as appropriate.
There’s another problem with the flash of the lights too, and that’s when it’s used as a visual manifestation of ‘you go first’. Politeness and courtesy is a good thing, and road manners are to be applauded, but it’s not the ideal signal it may seem.
Apart from the potential for misinterpretation, the Highway Code has more to say on the subject: “If another driver flashes his headlights never assume that it is a signal to go. Use your own judgement and proceed carefully.” How often have you seen someone accept a flash in blind faith, only to miss an oncoming car by a hair’s breadth?
It also encourages laziness and a lack of thought. On more than a dozen occasions, I’ve been happily bowling along a single carriageway, with the traffic in the opposite direction clogged by someone wishing to turn right. Now the instinct is to flash, but instead you’re supposed to slow down, making the gap between you and the car ahead bigger and inviting the turning car to go.
Fat chance. I’ve had to come to a stop, because the guy isn’t looking for a gap anymore, he’s waiting for a flash. In the same way, when you hear someone beep, do you look at what you’re doing and for other vehicles, or do you look to see who’s questioning your judgement?
The trouble is that this sort of habit is a hard one to break, but it’s worth a try. Who knows, maybe the horn can be reclaimed as a safety device rather than the audible version of a raised middle finger.