Quackers? Researchers suggest replacing car honks with duck sounds

car horn
Bizoon/123RF
It’s not just ex-NASA engineers who are trying to develop easier-on-the-ear car horns. Researchers in South Korea, too, have been working on creating the ideal honking sound that isn’t as grating as the traditional horn but still succeeds in alerting people to possible danger.

They’ve come up with the sound of a duck’s quack.

Now you’re probably thinking, “If I heard a quacking noise while driving along, I’d probably think, y’know, that there were some ducks nearby.” But according to lead researcher Professor Myung-Jin Bae and his team at Soongsil University in Seoul, this is the ideal sound for a car horn.

So how exactly did they arrive at this somewhat unexpected conclusion? Well, the team surveyed 100 pedestrians and found a duck’s quack to be the friendliest sound that induced the least amount of stress, while still alerting them to a potentially hazardous situation. Interestingly, they also rather liked the Klaxon sound from one of Ford’s earliest Model T cars.

The survey group listened to a range of suggested car horn sounds and were told to rate them for qualities like loudness, friendliness, and effectiveness. The numbers were then crunched to arrive at an average rating that ranked the various honks from best to worst on a five-point scale. The duck quack scored the best mark, though the Klaxon was also up there.

Certainly, a quacking noise could help reduce incidents of road rage, as hitting the horn in anger only to hear the sound of a duck could help to diffuse a tense situation between two irate drivers. On the other hand, if a car should come dangerously close to ploughing into a little old lady doddering across the street, multiple quacks as the car careers toward the unsuspecting senior would seem wholly inappropriate.

Bae believes the ideal sound could be a combination of both a quack and a Klaxon, suggesting the new kind of honk would “immediately alert the pedestrians of the danger while also reducing the unpleasantness and stress of the sound.”

Other efforts

Although the subject of Bae’s research may sound a trifle absurd, the idea of an improved car horn is clearly a matter of genuine interest for a number of road users. For example, we recently heard about former NASA engineer Mark Rober and his efforts to build the friendliest car horn you’ll ever hear.

In addition, the engineers working on Google’s (now Waymo) self-driving car technology have been pondering the weighty issue of when a polite toot becomes an intimidating honk, while back in 2015 we learned of a Kickstarter project for a device that replaced your car horn with a super-polite voice to say things like, “Excuse me, but I do believe you’re in my way.”

It failed to get funded.

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