Mumbai Police Play a Trick on Honking Drivers

NEW DELHI — In India, when driving, you basically need a ring of eyeballs around your head to see what’s coming.

Three-wheeled rickshaws whirl out of the roundabouts straight at you, packs of stray dogs dash into the road, huge buses lurch up from behind. And on every side is a thickening stew of bicycle rickshaws, little taxis, fat Mercedes, Uber drivers riveted to their screens, drivers drifting in and out of lanes, and Mario Andretti types hurtling down the main drag six inches from each other.

In this world, the car horn is a survival tool and a weapon. People use them constantly — to berate, to warn, and especially to get sluggish drivers to move.

But in Mumbai, it’s gotten to be too much. Honking in traffic has become such a problem, creating so much noise, that the Mumbai police hatched a plan.

At certain vital intersections, they installed slightly sinister devices that detect horn noise. When people honked at red lights, which they often do to get other drivers ready to go, the lights stayed red. The police put up a few signs — “Honk More Wait More” — but clearly not everyone understood what was happening.

The police filmed all this, using sweepy drone shots and a little Bollywood magic. (Mumbai is the center of India’s gigantic film industry, after all.) They posted a video on social media last week. Instantly, it went viral.

The video shows people getting out of cars with confused looks on their faces, some yelling at each other to stop hitting the horns, kids on the sidewalk cracking up and cops exchanging a happy hand slap.

“This is what we wanted to tell them: Honking or making noise doesn’t move the traffic,” explained Pranaya Ashok, a Mumbai police spokesman. “The traffic takes its own time to move, O.K.?”

The exercise, done in November and December, was just a trial run, and police bosses are discussing how they can implement it across the city, home to an estimated 20 million people.

Indians in every corner of the country are laughing about it; officials in several other places now want to rig their traffic lights with honking meters, too.

According to an old saying in India, to drive well all you need are four simple things: a good car, good eyes, good luck and a good horn.

But now, maybe you just need three.

“Honking is a very bad and indisciplined traffic act,” Mr. Ashok said. “It sours the ears of a normal person.”

Or, in the words of one Twitter user who commented on the video, “No more ‘honky ponky.’”

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