vulture investigates

The Honking Wars of the 2023 Writers’ Strike

Photo: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Early into the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, an electronic traffic sign appeared outside Warner Bros.’ Burbank lot. “Excessive horn use,” the sign warned, “violates 27001 CVC.”

“Spotted outside of the Warner Bros lot. They don’t like how much people are honking in support of writers,” Abbott Elementary writer Brittani Nichols posted on Twitter. “We can’t help that people love us […] #WGAstrong.”

The sign, of course, raised eyebrows for strike participants and passersby alike. What was “27001 CVC,” anyway? Is there really some sort of prohibition on car-honking in the Golden State? Could this be some sort of Banksy-like prank to drum up still more auditory support for striking writers?

As it turns out, the sign is not some sort of performance art. “​The WGA strike began on May 2, 2023. The Burbank Police Department (BPD) began receiving complaints about the incessant noise levels and vehicle horn honking on May 8 from residents that live adjacent to Warner Bros. Studios,” a department spokesman said in an email. “One of the residents expressed their displeasure with the BPD for ‘allowing’ the incessant vehicle horn honking, which they understood was determined as not being a 1st Amendment protected activity …”

A recent decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that honking one’s car horn is not protected by the First Amendment and that klaxons should only be used according to the California Vehicle Code’s regulations — that 27001 CVC written in blinking letters.

“The driver of a motor vehicle when reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation shall give an audible warning with his horn,” the code states. “The horn shall not otherwise be used, except as a theft alarm system …”

And even though a car horn is a car horn, there can be stiff penalties for honking outside the code. The penalties for violating car-horn laws can prompt “traffic citation for disturbing the peace, handed out primarily for honking excessively, and can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $400, without counting court fees and other expenses.” So you could, theoretically, wind up behind bars for honking if they threw the book at you.

Residents’ kvetching about horns seemed to invoke discourse on disorderly behavior. People who complained about the horn, the spokesman said, “asked for solutions to the problem, with a majority stating they work from home, have small children, and must leave their homes every weekday to simply avoid the problems caused by the WGA activity that is directly impacting their quality of life.” The department, this spokesman said, tried to come up with a way that would address alleged nuisance noise while upholding First Amendment rights to free speech.

“To help mitigate the excessive amount of horn honking near Warner Bros. Studios, the BPD Traffic Bureau decided to use an educational approach by placing a mobile changeable message sign board at the approach to Warner Bros. Studios on Olive Avenue,” the spokesman said of the sign. “The intent was to encourage compliance with 27001 CVC and reduce the noise levels that are negatively impacting nearby residents.”

“Passing motorists can still show their support for WGA members in a variety of manners, without the use of their vehicle horns,” the spokesperson said. A message sign was also put outside the approach to Disney’s studios following complaints about honking. Neither Warner Bros., Disney, nor WGA reps immediately responded to requests for comment.

Disturbing the peace outside of studios is kind of the whole point of the picket line, and for some WGA supporters, the honks are melodious — and a good reminder of their end goal: Make the studios listen and acknowledge the WGA’s demands. Still, a spokesperson told Vulture that the placement of the sign has “significantly reduced but has not eliminated the number of passing vehicles using their horns,” and said that the department “has been in regular communication with the organizers of the WGA strike and has worked towards mitigating excessive noise resulting in complaints from residents.” So, yes, if you’re cruising by the picket lines then you can honk in support of writers — just maybe don’t be like this guy.

The Honking Wars of the 2023 Writers’ Strike