Park Bans Long-standing Tunnel Honking Tradition in the Smoky Mountains

a sign that reads "no honking in tunnel" next to the spur tunnel

Signs that flank the Spur Tunnel in now read "no honking in tunnel" (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

The ‘no honking’ signs went up months ago – but is the change permanent?

I’m comfortable when on the Gatlinburg Spur. After all, I’ve been driving between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge for more than 30 years now. And so, as I focus quite literally on the road, I might not notice changes going on the periphery. Growing developments certainly seem to be the chief change on The Spur over the years. However, a recent change caught me off guard completely. In this article, we will discuss the change on the spur that has the internet honking folks mad. 

During the repairs on the Gatlinburg Tunnel through Big Ridge Mountain, temporary no-honking signs were put in place. After the construction ended, the temporary signs came down and permanent no-honking signs went up in their place. According to the National Park, the decision was made to ban honking in the tunnel along the Spur to prevent noise pollution which had been impacting nearby residences.

Inside The Spur Tunnel
There is a long-standing tunnel-honking tradition that many travelers look forward to (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The tradition of honking in tunnels

The tradition of blowing your car horn in tunnels began as a practical thing. It was a way to warn other drivers – as well as any walking through – of your approach. This was usually in small, one-lane tunnels. However, the tradition continued even after the advent of things like headlights and two-way roads. Why? Because it’s cool. 

Before the advent of cell phones and cars with video screens, road trips could be long and boring affairs. Anything to break up the monotony is great. Anyone who has ever ridden from Indiana to the beach in the 70s or 80s knows how to make the horn signal to passing truckers, train whistle style. Get a trucker or two to pull that string and make the massive horn sound and you’re good for another 50 miles. So, horns in tunnels? A cool noise, echoing noise for a few minutes? Yes, please.  

It’s a tradition that continues. Whenever we’re heading through the mountains and we’ve got a tunnel ahead, I’ll let the kids know. They could be completely unconscious, dead to the world and snoring, but the prospect of a tunnel ahead? They’re up like you’ve hit ‘em with a jolt of espresso. 

Much to my wife’s chagrin and children’s delight, we honk our butts off as soon as we hit the tunnel’s edge. Often, I’ll honk a merry little tune. If a symphony orchestra ever adds a car horn to the ensemble, I bet I’ve got a shot at first chair. 

No Honking Sign in Tunnel on The Spur
The no-honking signs first popped up during tunnel repairs (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

The permanent no-honking signs

Now, I don’t think anyone thought it was unreasonable to ask people not to honk when construction workers were present at the tunnel. Working on the roadside as drivers zip by can be unnerving enough. Add in the constant beeping and that’s a recipe to cause someone to snap. But once the construction stopped, why did the signs stay? 

Well, first we reached out to the Tennessee Department of Transportation and learned that neither the signs – nor the tunnel – belong to the state. We made contact with some friends in the Gatlinburg government, but they weren’t sure either. Finally, we got in touch with the National Park Service and got the answers for which we had been looking.  

the spur tunnel with signs flanking both sides that read "no honking"
While honking is no longer allowed inside the Spur Tunnel, the rule has proven difficult to enforce (photo by Bill Burris/TheSmokies.com)

Can you still honk in tunnels in the National Park? 

Not that one. The NPS confirmed that no honking signs at The Spur tunnel are permanent. Per the NPS, the temporary signs during last year’s tunnel repairs kept some of the noise pollution down near the residences at that location. So, the decision was made to make the change permanent.  

Tunnels that do not have fancy new residential developments – like the ones on Newfound Gap Road and Laurel Creek Road – do not have the signs. And therefore, you are allowed to beep to your heart’s content. 

So, when it comes to the tunnel along the spur, it’s now officially, it is now against the rules. But can anyone stop you? The confluence of events necessary for you to get busted honking seems unlikely. However, out of courtesy to nearby residents, you should probably refrain.

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5 thoughts on “Park Bans Long-standing Tunnel Honking Tradition in the Smoky Mountains”

  1. Who gives them the right to call it a “BAN” no one can stop someone from blowing a horn, just like who can control the idiots who drive at dark with no headlights? If they make it where they are going without getting pulled over for a ticket, or have a wreck then they are ok RIGHG?

    Reply
    • Not only can they ban honking, it’s already banned in Tennessee code, Title 55, Chapter 9, Party 201a. This law requires all vehicles to have, in good working order, a horn that can be heard from a minimum of 200ft, but also establishes use of that horn for any reason other than an emergency as prohibited. Otherwise, unless you put someone else is in danger, it is against state law to use your horn.

      In a practical sense it’s difficult to enforce, but that doesn’t change the fact this ban is completely legal under Tennessee state law.

      Reply
  2. That is so STUPID for them to make people stop blowing the horn in the tunnels. We have done that for years and years.

    Reply

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