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What is Rubbernecking?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Before the initial scene of a car accident is cleared away, a second potentially dangerous phenomenon known as rubbernecking often occurs. Passing motorists slow down considerably to observe the aftermath of the accident, or curious bystanders form a crowd around the site. Rubbernecking can be a very dangerous practice, especially for other drivers who must negotiate both the original accident scene and the traffic snarl created by curious gawkers. Emergency officials at an accident often try to discourage rubbernecking by forcefully directing drivers to keep moving.

It is part of human nature to become curious at the sight of something extreme or unusual, which makes some aspects of rubbernecking very understandable. Tourists viewing the sites of a large city for the first time often spend most of their time rubbernecking, because they are completely overwhelmed by the new and unusual sights around them. Some sources even say the term "rubbernecking" may have started around the early 20th century, as tourists riding in special sightseeing carriages around New York city craned their heads to take in the view of 44th Avenue. Local New Yorkers once called that area of Manhattan "Rubberneck Road."

Rubbernecking is also a common practice at bars popular with singles. The song "Rubberneckin'," released posthumously by Elvis Presley, details the practice of young men straining their necks and swiveling their heads to observe all of the beautiful women in a club. While this form of rubbernecking may not be popular with a man's female companion, it is still part of human nature to look at anything out of the ordinary, including the sights and sounds of a crowded nightclub.

There have been some studies conducted which seem to connect rubbernecking with a subsequent loss of attention. This is why extended rubbernecking while driving past an accident scene could be hazardous to one's health. One study showed that participants failed to register a target image which immediately followed a graphically violent or sexual image. In a real world application, a rubbernecking driver who sees a violent car crash may not recover in time to recognize a changing traffic light or the brake lights of a car. Rubbernecking is a natural reaction for many people, but drivers should learn to keep their attention on the road ahead and avoid becoming a new hazard for other drivers.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon340888 — On Jul 06, 2013

@anon65742: Slowing down with your head turned away from the road is not safer than maintaining speed.

By anon65742 — On Feb 15, 2010

The write of this article describes slowing down near the scene of an automobile accident as potentially dangerous.

Surely it is *more* dangerous to maintain your speed – there maybe be people on the road, leaking oil (or debris), someone seriously injured who needs help. I think it is safe driving to slow down in these situations. If people are ogling at something to the point where their driving becomes unsafe, that's their bad driving skills (and morbid fascination) as opposed to actual cautious driving.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WikiMotors, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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