State Supreme Court Says Honking Is Protected Speech
Phyllis Fletcher 10/28/2011
Maybe you’ve done this: You’ve gotten mad in your car and honked your horn. Depending where you did it, it could have been against the law. But the law could have been unconstitutional; it all depends on how it was written. That’s the word from the Supreme Court of Washington state Thursday. KUOW’s Phyllis Fletcher reports.
John Tollefsen is the lawyer who won the case. He says it all comes down to this:
Tollefsen: “Honking is speech, and when you draft a statute to control it, you have to make it reasonable in time and place.”
And the court found the law against honking in Snohomish County went too far.
Helen Immelt: “I avoid honking the horn now. I’ve already gone to jail once over it.”
That’s Helen Immelt. She lives in Snohomish.
In 2006, she had baby chicks in her garage. She says she didn’t know her homeowner’s association didn’t allow chickens. She got a letter about it. She found out her neighbors reported her. And the next morning, around 6:00, court papers say she honked outside their house for five to 10 minutes.
Immelt doesn’t think it was that long. But she admits she was mad and was trying to send a message.
A sheriff’s deputy came.
Then, another neighbor drove up.
Immelt: “He gave me the finger and I thought it was rude.”
So she honked again.
Immelt: “It was just ‘beep beep.’ Real quick.”
And the deputy arrested her, and charged her under the Snohomish County law against honking.
Tollefsen: “Well, it said you can’t honk at all — any place in the whole county — unless it was for a public safety reason, which wasn’t defined.”
Phyllis Fletcher: “Or a parade, right?”
Tollefsen: “Well, if you had a permit.”
The court says that’s too broad.
Tollefsen: “Now, if the person in front of you doesn’t know that the light turned green, and you honk to wake ’em up, is that public safety? You could sit through another light and be perfectly safe. Whatever you’re trying to say with your horn, you’re speaking.”
Tollefsen says only one other court — in Eugene — has found that honking is speech. And protected people’s right to do it.
Tollefsen: “People should celebrate this as a showing that the Constitution works.”
I’m Phyllis Fletcher, KUOW News.
© Copyright 2011, KUOW