woman rubbernecking in car

Rubbernecking: A form of distracted driving

On the Road 3 min read

On one major California freeway, rubbernecking caused accidents that ran multiple vehicles off the road. In Virginia, a driver slowing down to look at an accident caused yet another crash involving four vehicles. In New Jersey, a rubbernecker caused a crash involving multiple vehicles and backed up traffic for half an hour.

What do these accidents all have in common?

Rubbernecking. Maybe this comes as a surprise to you, but rubbernecking is a form of distracted driving.

While most people think of texting when they think of distracted driving, rubbernecking is a major issue as well, and even scarier, it’s on the rise.

Rubbernecking is dangerous

It doesn’t take long for a rubbernecking accident to happen. Taking your eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles your risk of getting into a car accident.

Think about how short three seconds is. Count to three slowly. One. Two. Three.

In that time, you could have injured someone, killed someone, or run your own or another vehicle off the road.

Approximately 100 people die in vehicle crashes every day, and 94 percent of all car accidents are due to driver error. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate 25 percent of all car accidents are the result of a distracted driver.

It’s not only fatalities, of course. Roughly 1,000 people are injured in the United States daily by distracted driving. Rubbernecking is a major factor: researchers estimate rubbernecking alone causes 10 to 16 percent of all car accidents.

Why do people rubberneck?

Curiosity is in our nature. In fact, the term rubbernecking came into use in the late 1800s, and originally referred to an activity we’d now call eavesdropping. It was the act of turning around, looking and listening to someone else’s conversation or someone else’s business.

It eventually morphed into the meaning we use today, to apply to the act of slowing down to look at a vehicle accident or another spectacle off the side of the road.

When we see an accident across the highway or road, we are naturally drawn to slow down, take a look and try to figure out what happened. It could be related to the survival instinct. What happened? Have we ever done something similar? Are people hurt? Badly?

Even worse, as we grow more and more connected by social media and photo sharing tools like Instagram and Snapchat, there’s been a rise in people taking drive-by photos of accidents. Not only are these drivers endangering others by taking their eyes off the road in front of them; they are doing this while holding a phone and taking photos.

Although it’s understandable from a human nature perspective, rubbernecking in and of itself can cause further accidents.

Prevent rubbernecking Don’t do it

In times like these, it is vital to pay even more attention to what’s going on in front of you — because nobody else is. Every other driver is likely rubbernecking, just like you are tempted to do.

Rubbernecking is such a traffic safety problem that first responders increasingly are placing barriers around accidents to prevent people from looking.

That’s because prevention works in distracted driving. People who don’t text don’t get in as many accidents as people who do. People who don’t rubberneck don’t get in as many accidents as those who do. So the barriers work as a preventive mechanism.

There’s another simple form of prevention: Drive responsibly. Don’t rubberneck. Contribute to the reduction of distracted driving across the United States.

Rubbernecking causes too many car accidents. It’s distracted driving, just as much as texting is. Drivers should not rubberneck, as it increases the risk of an accident. Do what you can to prevent adding to the statistics.

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