IS HONKING YOUR CAR HORN PROTECTED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT?
By Jonathan Blecher on April 24, 2023
The answer to this question is not entirely clear, as there is no Supreme Court ruling on the matter. However, there have been a number of cases in lower courts that have addressed the issue, and the results have been mixed.
In some cases, courts have held that honking a car horn can be considered expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. For example, in a 1998 case, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s honking her horn in protest of a government decision was protected speech. The court found that the woman’s honking was “a form of symbolic speech” that was “intended to convey a particular message to the public.”
In other cases, courts have held that honking a car horn is not protected speech. For example, in a 2002 case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that a law prohibiting the use of a car horn for anything other than warning of a traffic hazard was not unconstitutional. The court found that the law was a valid time, place, and manner restriction on speech, as it was necessary to protect the public from noise pollution. And just a few weeks ago the same federal appeals court upheld a California law that bans honking your car horn—except when reasonably needed to warn of a safety hazard.
The law “does not single out for differential treatment, for example, political honking, ideological honking, celebratory honking or honking to summon a carpool rider,” one Judge wrote. “Instead, the law ‘applies evenhandedly to all who wish to’ use the horn when a safety hazard is not present.”, the 9th Circuit concluded.
Ultimately, the question of whether honking a car horn is protected speech is one that will likely have to be decided by the Supreme Court. Until then, the answer to the question will continue to vary from case to case. If you’ve been charged with a similar offense in Florida, you should contact Jonathan Blecher, P.A. to defend your rights.