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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » Rubbernecking doesn't exist

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Author Topic: Rubbernecking doesn't exist
scifibum
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That's my new theory.

  • When a traffic collision occurs people are going to slow down to avoid participating in the collision and because that is the default reaction to something unexpected happening on the highway.
  • It's legally required to slow down when emergency vehicles are on the shoulder or stopped within the traffic lanes.
  • It's established that anything that can cause slowing in heavy traffic causes persistent slowing even after the original cause disappears. OpsanusTau posted about it here.
  • Anyway people might have to merge into fewer lanes to get past an accident site which causes slowing.
  • I don't know anyone who really wants a glimpse of mutilated flesh to break the boredom of a drive.
  • Everyone I know gets impatient with the slowing on the highway and speeds up at the earliest opportunity.
  • I've never observed anyone taking noticeably longer to accelerate when coming out of a traffic jam associated with an accident than people take to get going when a red traffic signal turns green.
  • People universally complain about rubberneckers. This doesn't leave any room for rubberneckers to exist.

In short I think people complain about rubbernecking because they are frustrated about having to go slow and they want someone to blame, so they invented that someone. I don't think it actually happens to the extent that it significantly slows down traffic.

A local radio traffic reporter calls it "curiosity slowing." I call it "not running into the car in front of me."

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scifibum
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Err, in case it's not obvious I'm talking only about rubbernecking on highways.
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Clark
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I'd agree that rubbernecking is not the sole (nor primary) cause of traffic slowdowns related to accidents. Does rubbernecking exist though? Really, there are two claims we can investigate.

1) Does rubbernecking (looking at accidents as you drive past) happen?

Absolutely. I know, because I do it. I don't want to see mutilated flesh, but I can't help my curiosity to see what car hit which, how much damage was done, who was at fault, etc., etc.

2) Does rubbernecking cause (or contribute to) traffic problems.

IMO, maybe. I know that when I spend that second or two glancing at an accident, it probably does slow me down slightly. I'd agree that rubbernecking is not nearly the problem that some people make it out to be, and would guess that it accounts for less then 10% of the slowing due to accidents. But to suggest that rubberneckers don't exist because people universally complain about them doesn't really make sense. Don't people universally complain about criminals?

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manji
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All of your points might be valid for drivers on the side the accident occurred. Say an accident occurred on the north side of the highway.

However, your points don't hold when there's increased traffic on the south side, concentrated around the accident site.

How can it be anything but rubbernecking?

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Mormegil
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Do people look at accidents or people getting a ticket? Of course. There are tons of traffic jams for someone merely getting a citation, there's no reason to slow down there.

What happens is people look out of simple feline curiosity, and instinctively take their foot off the accelerator while doing so. They slow down just a bit, but then the person behind must as well, and so on.

Then we get the idiots (who seem to be the majority) who don't realize that the gas pedal is not just the "go faster" pedal but also that removing your foot makes it the "go slower" pedal as well. The brakes should only be the "go a LOT slower" or "stop" pedal. Slowing down should always be done with the gas pedal *first*, but too many people just immediately hit the brakes.

That activates their brake lights, and people behind hit theirs, and so on.

A slowdown for hundreds or thousands of people, and for what? So some guy can get a speeding ticket. Oy.

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scifibum
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I think when the accident occurs it could cause startlement and reflexive braking on the opposite side of the freeway, which could then lead to the "traffic waves" described in the link.

However, Clark just admitted to curiosity slowing. Sigh.

BTW, Clark, I meant if everyone complains about rubbernecking, that would tend to indicate that they are not themselves guilty, and therefore no one would be left to complain about. That particular point was kind of a joke, though...obviously it's impossible to know whether everyone complains, and it's also likely that some complainers are hypocrites.

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scifibum
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Mormegil, I disagree: cars pulled over on the shoulder are a valid reason to slow down absent any curiosity. The likelihood that a car going slower than traffic will attempt to pull into the highway from the shoulder is a lot higher in that situation than it is otherwise. [Wink]
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DonaldD
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quote:
I think when the accident occurs it could cause startlement and reflexive braking on the opposite side of the freeway, which could then lead to the "traffic waves" described in the link.
This assumes that there had been sufficient traffic on the opposite side to allow waves to build up. You can only get waves if there is already fairly tight traffic to begin with; otherwise, the inital shock-related wave would simply dissipate as all the space catches up with the initial slow-down. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
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scifibum
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I wonder if we could make it legal to gently nudge the bumper of anyone unnecessarily slowing down traffic. The terror of one such event might be enough to get certain geriatric drivers to hang up the keys permanently. Think of the benefits.

My dad is not yet geriatric; he's 58. And driving with him is like driving with an unsupervised 17 year old. He needs to go fast and get ahead of everyone, he swerves, and has a lead foot. I wonder if mid life crisis teenage-style driving leads to near death experiences which then leads to paranoid, hypercautious geriatric driving, or if the latter is just associated with poor vision and having an open schedule.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I wonder if we could make it legal to gently nudge the bumper of anyone unnecessarily slowing down traffic.
Angry about your commute?
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scifibum
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Heh. [Smile]

Not really. I'm actually a pretty laid back driver. Just trying for some humor.

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Redskullvw
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I had to go out today a little after 4:00 PM. It was raining, but not bad enough to require anything other than intermittent wipers. I also happened to forget it was homecoming weekend at UGA. So it is a pretty fair bet to say that the population in town for the weekend is somewhere over 200,000 people. Normally we are around 80,000 with an additional 35,000 illegal aliens.

Having spent the last six or so years driving a minivan and a couple of SUV's, I guess I have become far more used to and comfortable with being in a large vehicle with very large crush zones. It was rather unnerving to be driving in traffic in a small Porsche again.

Normally at 4:00 in the afternoon, I can get from one side of the county to the other in about 20 minutes if I travel straight through town. If I take the interstate grade highway loop that goes around Athens, I could do it in maybe 10. Unfortunately, I had to go to a bank on the other side of town to drop off some additional paperwork regarding our construction on the burned house < aside, the credit market seems to be changing hourly>

At any rate, there isn't really anyway to go to that bank from my house other than the main road through town.

Let me offer my views on rubbernecking.

If you are a visitor from Tennessee and you have no idea where your hotel is and cannot seem to read all the multitudes of signs directing you to the campus- stop slowing down to ask traffic officers on the side of the road how to get to the RV parking lots. Further even with his advice, you seem to go out of your way to ignore his directions, upon which you then guide your 80 foot RV directly into downtown. A place even sub-compact cars have a problem navigating.

If you happen to be yet another Vanderbilt booster in yet another RV, and you SLOW DOWN to see if the RV in front of you got any info from the traffic cop with the blue lights flashing on his cruiser- DON"T slow down to 5 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. And if you happen to be a local yokel from Athens- REALIZE that the people driving the RV's are almost universally clueless as to where they are or where they need to go to begin 24 hours of tailgating. Get out of the way of these leviathans BEFORE they slam on their brakes to ask the cop where they are supposed to be.

If you are too stupid to be aware of the fact that every Fall, we get clueless drivers every couple of weeks, then for the love of God don't slow down just to observe the spectacle of yet another lost RV driver traveling in the opposite direction. This isn't even an event. You should know that they are lost. There are multiple WalMart parking lots available for them to wind up in. If they get hopelessly lost don't worry they will eventually have a safe place to stop, turn the 80 foot beast around, and look at a map.

If you are lucky enough to get past the endless line of RV stalls, and the people slowing down to look at them, then for God's sake please don't become mesmerized by the spectacle of two garbage trucks on main street stopping to pick up garbage. Pay attention to the street lights and keep moving. What should have been a 3 minute drive through downtown took me over 30 minutes because for some reason two garbage trucks picking up garbage in the rain is somehow a novel thing that must be looked at.

Then once that rubbernecking incident was over, I spent the next five miles nearly getting run over by Cadillac Escalades. All the while I was also having to avoid a never ending display of Vandy fans gawking at co-eds and slowing down to honk at each gaggle they passed on the side of the road. ACT like you have seen rain drenched females wearing white t-shirts before. Yes they have nipples under those shirts- and since this is one of the most liberal cities in the nation- most of them are not wearing bras.

What should have taken me maybe 30 minutes took me an hour and 20 minutes.

And almost all of it was due to rubbernecking.

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cperry
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Yeah, but I still think it's folks who treat the passing lane as a driving lane who cause the most problems. [Big Grin]
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Jesse
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I was comming through Victorville on the I-15 south-bound, and there was a huge 14 car pile-up on the north-bound side. Traffic on the south-bound side came to a virtual standstill.

I was in the fast lane. Finally, it broke loose, but the guy in front of me just sat there staring at the wreckage. I honked, he kept sitting there. I started hollering rather obscene things at him.

A CHP with a bunch of hash-marks on his sleeve steps across the barrier and waves for the guy to go. He keeps staring. CHP gets pissed and angrily motions again, guy keeps oogling.

CHP hollers "Pull over, ****hole. NOW!!!". Guy shakes his head in a "huh? Oh..." manner and pulls over to get his ticket. I go on my way.

No rubbernecking? Please.

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Haggis
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Ah, scifi, I see you do not live in California. It exists.
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vulture
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Rubbernecking does exist, kind of, but I don't think it is from ghoulish motives. The simple fact is that anything that causes a distraction on a highway running close to capacity is likely to causing a long queue. In the UK, where the motorways tend to have grassy banks raised up on both sides to hide the road from view (and cut down the noise pollution) it was established a while back that even a guy cutting the grass on the verge could cause a long traffic queue if there was heavy traffic. It only takes one person being distracted, braking 0.1 seconds too late when someone cuts out in front of them, and everyone generally driving too close to each other, and suddenly the car behind has to break harder, the car behind harder still, and in no time at all you have a nice tailback forming.

Hell, you can get it without any distractions at all - the traffic flow on a road running at near to capacity actually has two possible solutions to its flow state (you'd be amazed how much research has been done in to this sort of stuff): one at the normal cruising speed, and one at crawling speed. Both actually lead to the same number of vehicles passing a given point per minute, just at different speeds. And traffic can switch from the high speed to low speed at the drop of a pin - the closer to capacity the road traffic is, the less it takes. It can happen spontaneously - people get distracted by phone calls, conversations, rare birds, or just daydreaming, and suddenly a vicious circle of increased braking kicks in, and there you are. (One reason why driving too close to the car in front is bad - even if you can stop quickly enough not to hit it, you still cause the guy behind you to break harder, and the pattern generally is if one car slows by X miles per hour, the car behind will slow by more, and start accelerating again later - it's a cascade reaction).

So rubbernecking isn't a question of people deliberately slowing down to look at what has gone on. It is people being distracted, even for a brief period, by the accident. Understandable even if you are on the other side of the highway as the accident is actually happening. And in the aftermath, as long as people are distracted even for a second, half a second, by glancing over to see what has happened, the tailback is likely to remain as people are slow to react to the car in front accelerating as the road clears.

Really, we are talking about one second of attention here - not the ghoulish rubbernecking of lore of people slowing down to have a good gawp at the mess.

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Rallan
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I don't think rubbernecking exists, at least not the "let's slow down on purpose and get a better look" kind. When you get down to it, a lot of interesting stuff happens beside the road. Roadside attractions, weird stuff in peoples' lawns, people doing weird stuff on the footpath, people doing TV shoots, and so on and so forth. When was the last time you heard of any of these things leading to traffic congestion because people slowed down to look?
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Mormegil
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Around here the traffic will get backed up because a guy is getting a ticket on the other side of the divided highway. No rubbernecking, my eye.
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Jesse
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You folks need to be four or five feet above the traffic, where you can see people tap their passenger on the shoulder and point out the accident to them as they slow for no reason.

I'm not saying MOST people are ghoulish freaks, but it only takes a few who are to royally screw traffic flow.

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Finvarra
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I got in a bad accident about a year ago and I was surprised at how many people on the other side of the barrier, going in the opposite direction stopped to talk to us. Some said they were EMS professionals and offered assistance, others just asked if everyone was ok.

We definitely caused a traffic jam on the other side of the high way.

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