This letter is a warning to all animal lovers in Maine: Honking your horn to avoid an animal in the road is illegal.

That’s what Maine District Court Judge Jed French ruled recently in Portland: “Honking at wildlife crossing the road is unnecessary and, therefore, illegal.” And the fine? Only $137.

It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. The offense – MRSA 29-A, Section 1903(2) – is called “unnecessary use of horn” and reads simply: “A person may not unnecessarily sound a signaling device or horn.” I thought the officer was joking when he wrote me a ticket. But here are the facts – you decide.

The officer was Scott Vaughan of the Scarborough Police. He testified in court that the “beep, beep” of my car “startled” him when I passed him on Black Point Road. I testified that I was honking at a chipmunk crossing the road and that I instinctively honk at animals in the road. My neighborhood has lots of squirrels, so I get a lot of reinforcement.

Perhaps Officer Vaughan has issues with horns. Or, maybe, this is a case of police harassment. But isn’t that what judges are for – to be neutral and informed arbiters of the law?

I guess Judge French isn’t as informed as he could be. The law today doesn’t define “unnecessary.” But, when it was enacted in 1921, “unnecessary” was defined as “harsh, objectionable or unreasonable noise”: “No horn shall be unnecessarily sounded in the thickly settled part of a town so as to make a harsh, objectionable or unreasonable noise.”

Is it “unreasonable” to honk your horn twice to save an animal’s life? Hasn’t there been enough roadkill? With all the attention given to Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, in a sportsman’s paradise like Maine, shouldn’t Animal Lives Matter, too?

Benjamin Rupert

Scarborough