Why is it then when there's an accident on a motorway on one carriageway, that the otherwise unaffected carriageway in the opposite direction grinds to a halt at the same time? This is caused by what is known as ‘rubbernecking’ where the human instinct to show interest in anothers misery is more powerful than the desire to focus on one's own actions, in this instance safe driving. This distraction causes passing traffic to at best slow down and look over at what’s happening causing congestion behind, or at worst cause a serious accident as drivers rubbernecking are not paying attention to the road ahead. Rear ending the car in front is most the most common secondary accident on a motorway and very often caused by rubbernecking.
Unfortunately, when accidents do occur on motorways they are often serious due to the higher speeds involved. That said, motorways account for only 10% of road deaths in the UK, despite taking 20% of the traffic making them the safest road type in the UK. However, when they do occur, they can start a chain of accidents and it’s not uncommon to see the opposite carriageway have an accident of its own, or just slow considerably.
How to Stop Rubbernecking?
There isn’t really a simple solution and installing barriers along central reservations of the entire motorway network would be an extremely costly and time consuming option. The best solution is driver education and ensuring that those behind the wheel are fully focused on the task in hand. If you’re renting a car and driving in a different country it’s even more important that you are fully focused to drive safely. Driving an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads, often on the other side of the road requires your full attention, particularly around an accident as others may well be rubbernecking around you.
Stay safe when driving and avoid the temptation of rubbernecking!