A maddening love for horns and lack of respect for others are turning Kathmandu into one of the noisiest cities in the world
It’s ten in the morning. Hundreds of cars, two wheelers, and tempos are jammed bumper to bumper in Thapathali. As the police signals the traffic to move ahead, a chorus of horns erupts all at once, like an orchestra performing a rehearsed symphony. Unfortunately, there’s nothing pleasant about this ensemble.
As if the incessant honking from inconsiderate drivers was not enough, Kathmandu’s residents also have to put up with the ear-drum splitting bellows of banned pressure horns, one of the leading sources of noise pollution in the Valley. Used mostly by large four wheelers - trucks, buses, minivans - these horns produce upto 120 decibels, while a standard horn produces only around 70-80 decibels.
“Long term exposure to high decibel sounds increases stress, blood pressure, aggression, and even leads to hearing loss in extreme cases,” informs Dr Suman Raj Dangol, ENT specialist at Vayodha Hospital. The safe exposure limit is 85 decibels for eight hours a day, anything above that and our health is affected.
After multiple failed attempts to crackdown on the use of pressure horns, the Metropolitan Traffic Police re-launched its drive against on 2 July. It has confiscated more than 1,200 pressure horns and digital horns in the past three weeks and is slapping fines from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 on offenders. “We will continue our campaign until we get rid of all illegal horns,” says DSP Pawan Giri, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Traffic Police Department.
As news of the campaign spreads through word of mouth, many drivers have started voluntarily removing their pressure horns. Ram Krishna Shrestha, 36, a driver at Lalitpur Yatayat says he got rid of his horn last week after he found out about the campaign from fellow drivers. “This is a good initiative, but it will only be effective if the police can give it continuity,” he says. “And honking isn’t only the drivers’ fault. Many pedestrians just don’t leave the way forcing us to use horns regularly. They need to be taught traffic rules too,” Shrestha adds.
While traffic police is busy confiscating pressure horns from owners of four wheelers, many motorcyclists are also guilty of using the illegal contraption. Custom made horns that are louder and produce a sound similar to that of trucks are becoming increasingly fashionable among young bikers. “Most of my friends have the new horn, so I also got one,” admits 19-year-old Dawa Tenzing.
To cater to this young market, bike companies are now offering digital horns in their vehicles which produce 105 decibels and are almost as loud as pressure horns. However, these companies are exempt from legal action on technical ground: only modifications count as violation of traffic rules.
Valley drivers are also notorious for abusing horns in ‘no horn’ zones around schools, hospitals, and government offices. Those who honk in such areas can be fined between Rs 100 to Rs 300, but this rule is rarely implemented and as the Motor Vehicles and Transport Management Act 1993 does not provide a clear definition of horn-free zones, vehicle owners are not sure most of the time. In the absence of proper guidelines and enforcement, communities have stepped up to control noise population on their own (see box).
While the ban is a step in the right direction, the misuse of horns won’t stop unless we address a larger social issue at hand: our lack of respect for other people’s space and privacy. What does it say about our culture that finds it acceptable to blast morning bhajans or the latest Bollywood hits on loudspeakers without a second thought for neighbours? Until we change our attitude and learn to be more caring and considerate of those around us, the tooting and blaring is here to stay.
Enjoy the silence
A study conducted by the World Health Organistion in 2010 lists New York as the noisiest city in the world followed by Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Buenos Aires.
No means no
]Fed up by the early morning honking from a nearby bus stop, Hari Bahadur Thapa, a resident of Magar Gaun, Bhaisipati, mobilised his neighbours to make the community a horn-free zone. After consulting with the VDC head, local police, and bus owners/drivers that provide public transport in the area, they installed a no-horn zone sign in the neighbourhood this May.
“The drivers were completely opposed to the idea at first and mocked us,” admits Thapa. “It took us several weeks just to convince them of the importance of reducing noise pollution.” The use of horns in Magar Gauan has decreased dramatically and Thapa is happy to see tranquility return to his hometown.
MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
]When Tribhuvan International Airport was built in 1949, Kathmandu was home to about 400,000 residents. Today, it is one of the most densely populated metropolis in the world and as the Valley becomes smothered by urban sprawl, more and more families are being forced to live directly under the flight path. “In the beginning I had a very hard time sleeping,” says Usha Parajuli of Koteshor. “I have gotten used to the booming sound whenever planes fly right over my head, but it is still very annoying,” she adds. While the constant clamor is undoubtedly a big irritant, the negative health effects have not yet been studied.
The Valley’s bowl-shaped topography amplifies the sound and prolongs the echo and planes have to climb on maximum power to get over the surrounding mountains. Officials at Civil Aviation Authority say they are exploring alternative routes that take planes away from densely built-up areas and reduce the sonic boom. But for now Parajuli and hundreds like her will continue to go to bed to the tunes of Boeings landing and taking off.
Decibel is a unit used to measure the intensity of sound. Prolonged exposure to sounds measuring at or above 85 decibel levels can lead to gradual hearing loss.