In America, laying on the car horn is a driver’s sure way of saying one of two things: 1) “You’re an asshole”; 2) “I’m an asshole.”

I’ve found it’s a little more nuanced in China, where the horn can mean either of the above two, but also:

— Look at me, aren’t I the richest and best?

— You probably aren’t aware of this because as a pedestrian walking in the middle of the road you are clearly a heedless and foolhardy fellow, but I’m a car and would really like to travel at the speed of one, now.

— Please politely step aside for your own safety because I am a car and I am FAST APPROACHING.

— I’m bored, has it really been 20 minutes since we’ve moved 100 meters?

— DIE YOU %@#$

It all sort of depends on context, you know?

But no matter what, cars produce noise pollution, and if there are a lot of cars — say, nearly 6 million in Beijing alone — then the pollution can be more than a little annoying.

Which is why this is development interesting: certain areas around Beijing will now be using “car horn detectors” to make sure drivers are not illegally honking. Via

“The detectors consist of three parts, namely, a microphone array acquisition device, an electronic capture and a LED prompt system. Combining the three systems, we can distinguish between the sounds of horns, brakes and engine noise, etc.,” said Li Jianfeng, deputy director of the Scientific and Technical Information Department of the bureau.

“The detectors can accurately collect honks.” Li said. “Even parallel vehicles can also be identified based on their position in each lane; the recognition locator feature can reflect the direction the honks are coming from, so there will be no misjudgment.”

Offenders will have their car plates photographed, tracked down, and prosecuted. They will only be fined 100 yuan (US$14.76).

Beijing isn’t the first city to install this system. For a year now, Nanjing has been using sonar plus photography to grab overzealous honkers. They haven’t nabbed many — only 17, which makes me think enforcement is somewhat arbitrary — but it’s the spirit that counts. Use less horn where possible. Everyone will be happier for it.