Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Straight Dope

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM


By Cecil Adams

Over the years I've noticed a variety of siren sounds for emergency vehicles. Is it true siren sounds have to be changed periodically, particularly in urban areas, to prevent drivers from getting used to a particular sound and not paying attention?

Dylan, Chicago

Varietywise I don't know that siren sounds are in the same league as ice-cream flavors, or for that matter the olive department at Whole Foods, but there are more than there used to be. Two are reliably found in just about all U.S. emergency vehicles: 1) the wail, the traditional "Dragnet"-type siren whose pitch in olden days rose and fell with the vehicle's speed; and 2) the yelp, whose pitch rapidly alternates, reflecting the frantic pace of modern life. Other common sounds include 3) the European-style high-low or two-tone siren, which nowadays is often interspersed with whoops and other noises; 4) what's sometimes called the "phaser" siren, which does sound a bit like something you'd use to take out the Klingons; and 5) the braying "air horn" (actually an electronic reproduction of an air horn), admittedly not a siren in the strictest sense, for when you can't get the attention of space cases at intersections any other way.

Read more here.

(Illustration by Slug Signorino)

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