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Low-tech and new tech options for nudging stopped drivers
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Low-tech and new tech options for nudging stopped drivers

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Dear Car Talk:

I have a suggestion for Connie, the lady who wanted to install a second, gentler horn to nudge people who aren’t paying attention at traffic lights.

I suffer from the same problem: people texting or asleep at the wheel on the green light. My problem is even worse, as I need to go through a light-rail crossing to get home. Sometimes the green light will last for only two cars if you are awake and move fast. If not, the second car has to wait sometimes up to 5 minutes or more for another chance.

So ... I blink my high beams once or twice and this usually does the trick. Maybe Connie wants to try it before installing a second horn? If my trick stops working, I will install the horn. I love your column. Thanks very much. — Marcela

Flashing your high beams can work, Marcela, but you don’t get the satisfaction of seeing the guy in front of you bolt up and hit his head on the roof of the car, drop his lit cigar between his legs and then floor it. But it’s certainly worth a try. Sometimes the high beams will be reflected in a person’s rearview mirror, and that may be enough to get someone’s attention.

If not, you can always try a quick tap on the horn. But that doesn’t always work. Some cars seem to have only two horn positions: off and tugboat.

Interestingly, we test drive new cars, and we’ve seen several technologies starting to be used to address this annoyance. Subarus, for instance, use the forward collision warning system to detect when a car in front of you has pulled away. And it gently beeps at you to get moving.

BMW also uses its forward collision system to detect when the car in front of you pulls away and restarts the engine (which automatically turns off when you stop at a light). That’s also a nice way of getting the driver’s attention.

That’s a great, secondary use of that collision-avoidance technology. But it doesn’t work if you’re first in line at the red light and there’s nobody in front of you for the car to “detect.”

If you’re first at the light, then you have to wait for Marcela to flash her high beams at you, or for someone less polite to jolt you out of your beauty rest with full-on foghorn.

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