Tackling sound pollution
Traffic in India is a famously untameable beast. Its unmistakable call is the loud, angry honking of all manner of vehicles. On a busy street, during office hours, the honking can go up to what has scientifically been proven to be a health hazard. It is this issue of noise pollution that the Mumbai Police have found a novel way to curb. They appear to have decided that if we won’t learn to honk less on our own, tough love is the most viable solution. To this end, in at least three busy intersections in Mumbai, they went about installing “punishing signals”. Essentially, they attached a decibel meter to the traffic signal to measure sound when the traffic light is red. As soon as the level reached 85 decibels (the level above which sound is considered to become dangerous), the signal resets the red light, making the wait even longer.
The innovative idea was made into an advertisement-length video. Tweeting “Horn not okay, please!” and using the hashtag #HonkResponsibly, the Mumbai Police posted the video that showed how people reacted to this punishing signal. “Feel free to honk,” the voiceover tells us as the video ends, “that is, if you don’t mind waiting.” The video is clever and funny, and addresses the real problem of noise pollution in our cities. The World Health Organization has shown that noise can contribute to diseases, with effects such as increases in stress hormones, hypertension, obesity, and cardiac disease. Prolonged or repeated exposure to loud sounds (especially above 85 decibels) can even cause hearing loss. And in urban areas, it isn’t just noise from traffic that causes problems. Construction noises, machines, exhaust fans, non-honking traffic sounds, aircraft, and even indoor noises contribute to the pollution. It has become impossible to find a quiet corner in cities. The Mumbai Police have taken on an uphill task to reduce at least one kind of noise pollution.
The idea that it is only punishment that can teach us to be self-conscious of our honking is an interesting one. As adults, we are not used to dealing with such frustrations as the resetting of a set of traffic lights that was already delaying us. The idea, of course, as the video shows us, is to encourage others to control the urge to honk while driving. This is a terrible habit that almost all Indian drivers indulge in on the roads. And since we’ve steadfastly refused to learn to stop so far, we might just have to learn it the hard way. Honk More, Wait More!