The Michigan Vehicle Code requires every motor vehicle in Michigan to be fitted with a working horn. “A motor vehicle, including a motorcycle or moped, when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with a horn in good working order and capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of not less than 200 feet but a horn or other warning device shall not emit an unreasonably loud or harsh sound or a whistle.” MCL 257.706(a). Failure to maintain a working horn can result in your vehicle being cited for defective equipment which is a civil infraction punishable by a fine. If there was a motor vehicle accident, the driver with the non-functioning horn could be liable for negligence and responsible for significant money damages.
Despite this requirement, there is much confusion regarding when it is legal to use a vehicle horn in Michigan. “The driver of a motor vehicle shall when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation give audible warning with his horn but shall not otherwise use the horn when upon a highway.” MCL 257.706(a). What does that mean?
If you closely examine the statute, you will see that the only valid use of the horn on the road is “when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation.” Any other use of the horn is prohibited. If the horn is to be used, it has to be related to continuing the safe use of your vehicle (or other surrounding vehicles on the road).
Legal use of the vehicle horn includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Honking to warn another driver that they are moving into your lane unaware that completing this maneuver will result in a collision.
- Honking to warn pedestrians to clear the road while you are oncoming in your lane of travel.
- Honking to alert a distracted driver at an intersection that the light has turned green but they do not appear to be paying attention or moving.
Unlawful use of the vehicle horn includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Honking at a vehicle that has cut you off (since the time to honk where safe operation of the vehicle could be insured has passed).
- Honking at someone who was pulled over by the police on the side of the road.
- Honking while parked outside of someone’s house on the road (the Michigan Vehicle Code covers conduct on both public and private roads).
On December 29, 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 4395 into law which eliminated the requirement for a driver of a passing vehicle that is overtaking a slower vehicle to honk or provide some other audible sound so that the slower vehicle can give way to the right. Slower drivers in the left lane are now required to move right even if they haven’t been honked at to move over.
Improper use of the horn can result in a civil infraction punishable by a fine.
A person accused of a missing horn or improper horn use is not required to admit responsibility and can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. It is possible that the court can give you a break if you present the facts and circumstances that led you to believe that the use of the horn was proper. Whether or not you decide to fight the offense or just pay the fine depends on the merits of your case. Sometimes it is worth challenging the accusation to keep your driving record clean, and sometimes it’s worth paying the fine to avoid missed work and attorney fees if the evidence against you is strong. An experienced traffic lawyer can help guide you in making the right decision for your situation.
If you are charged with any traffic offense, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.