I'm going to get right to the point today. I've covered related topics in Return to Sender, but for this week's Monday Manners column, I'm keeping things short, sweet, and to the point: don't honk at pedestrians and bicyclists if they're not breaking the law. Don't do it. Period.
Honking at other cars because the driver is pissing you off is bad enough. Cars, however, are (usually) closed, somewhat insulated spaces, within whose metal frame the sound of your horn, while still clearly audible, is just a little muffled. Cyclists and pedestrians have no such filter. When you honk at them because you're ignoring their right-of-way (pedestrians) or their equal right to the right-side of the road (cyclists), you're not only stepping into a gray area, legally, but you're also running the risk of startling them in a potentially dangerous way. A loud noise like a car horn can be distracting to the point of disorientation, and I've seen a cyclist fall off his bike as a result of being honked at.
Now, if a cyclist decides to blow through a red light right in front of you, or if a pedestrian is standing in the middle of the street, having a conversation with a friend and showing no signs of hearing your approach and moving out of your way, a short blast of your horn might be in order. Do bear in mind, though, that even if somebody is breaking the law, you're driving a few thousand pounds of steel and the other person is, at best, wearing a bicycle helmet. If you can wait, do. Or flash your lights or roll down the window and ask (politely) that the offending biped move out of your way. Because this is beyond being a polite motorist—it's being a safe one.
Image Credit: Flickr user quatro.sinko