Metro-East Living

When is it appropriate to honk your car horn?

Q. My wife and I went grocery shopping the day before the 4th of July. Not a good day, but my wife said she “had to have a couple of things.” So, the grocery store has a big parking lot with rows and rows of diagonal parking spots. We drive up and want to turn into the first row to find a parking spot, but there is a car in front of us, blocking the entire row. We can’t get around him to go to the next row because there are cars coming from the other direction. We wait. He doesn’t move. We could see other spots open further down the row. I thought about getting out of my car and going up to his car and ask him to move on, but decided that wasn’t the wise thing to do. We waited some more and finally I tooted my horn at him which upset my wife. That’s what a horn is for, right? It didn’t matter because the guy did not move until a person with a loaded grocery cart came out of the store to a car about two spaces in front of where he was parked. He stayed there until the person unloaded all the groceries, got in the car, backed out and left. Annoying and frustrating to say the least.

A. Tooting, or honking a horn is legal as a warning of impending danger. For example, if a pedestrian was walking and not paying attention and close to walking in front of your moving vehicle, it is legal for you to toot your horn. Or, if the car in the lane next to you begins moving into your lane, to prevent a collision, it is legal for you to toot your horn.

If the car in front of you at a stop light does not immediately move forward when the light turns green, it is debatable whether it is legal for you to toot your horn or not after a few seconds. It may be necessary, however, to toot your horn if you notice the driver is being distracted doing something else and possibly or apparently did not notice the light change from red to green. In this case, tooting your horn may avoid the possibility of cars behind you slamming into you and others because they see a green light and are not expecting to find several stopped vehicles in front of them.

Tooting a horn at a pedestrian walking on the sidewalk is illegal because it may distract or frighten other drivers and cause an accident. Driving up to someone’s house and tooting the horn in order to announce you have arrived is illegal in certain cities if it is after certain hours in the evening or early in the morning. It is inconsiderate because it disturbs others living in this residential area. If arrested, a fine can be assessed.

Tooting a horn in certain cities during heavy traffic hours is also illegal and can warrant a fine. Blaring on your horn while in a line of stopped vehicles does nothing but infuriate the car(s) in front of you and on either side of you and it is also illegal. It may also involve a hefty fine if the police catch you doing this.

In your particular scenario, if you tooted your horn at the car in front of you because you thought he was unaware of your presence behind him, and you were concerned about the safety of the cars backed up behind you in possible unsafe locations, then your toot would be considered somewhat legal. If, however, you tooted your horn in frustration, it was not legal.

Bottom line: Was this stopped driver in front of you rude and inconsiderate for not moving forward to an empty parking spot further down the row, the answer is absolutely.

What can you do about it? Perhaps speaking to the store’s manager with a suggestion they hire traffic monitors to direct traffic in the parking lot on heavy shopping days before holidays and on pay days, for example, might help get the situation resolved.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Dianne Isbell at Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to