The Inadequacy of the Car Horn

This morning I found myself asking the question: How do you tell someone their gas cap is open at 65 MPH?

I was on one of those giant, arcing ramps connecting one freeway to another, and noticed that the car in front of me (a PT Cruiser, I think) had something flopping around on its side. It quickly became clear that it was the gas cap, still tethered to the car, with the open flap above it. As we both merged onto the next freeway, I contemplated: how could I tell the driver?

On city streets, I’d try to pull up next to the car at a red light, roll the window down, wave, maybe honk the horn, and then say, “Your gas cap is open.”

But on a highway with no stopping points, at a speed where safe driving distance would keep us out of earshot?

I thought about honking the horn. But what good would that do? A horn only says one thing: “Hey!” Sure, you can vary it a little to give it a sense of urgency — “Hey! Hey!Hey!” “Heeeeeeeey!!!!!!” But it doesn’t allow much for specifics. I suppose you could try Morse code, but I wouldn’t count on most people being able to understand it — I’m an Eagle Scout and I only remember 4 letters — and it would take too long to spell out a message anyway.

Should I try to get in the next lane, match speeds, wave, and try to point to the back of the car? No, that didn’t seem safe.

Flash my headlights? No, that had the same problem as the horn. Too vague.

Outside of the basics (turn signals & brake lights) and a few standard signals (flashing the brights to tell someone you’re passing) — there really isn’t a good way to tell another driver something specific, like “Your lights are off,” “You’ve got a coffee mug on your roof,” or “Stop trying to crawl into my trunk.” Which I suppose is just as well, judging by a random sampling of bumper stickers and the way people treat other drivers. The enhanced road rage might cause more hazards than the enhanced communication would solve.

As for this morning’s PT Cruiser, I eventually I saw it move over to the shoulder. I guess there must have been a warning light on the dashboard.

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