How to Stop Rubbernecking

Freeway traffic comes to a halt after an accident, and if cars are getting backed up, it can take a while to get them all up and moving again at a normal speed.


After sitting in a car for 13 minutes, creeping forward inch by inch, you'd think that drivers would be deadset on getting going as soon as possible. But they aren't. More than half of drivers look over, trying to get a look at crash evidence at the side of the road. Drivers treat this experience as if they were waiting in line at Six Flags to get into the shark experience: They waited in line and now they want a show.

It reminds me of a situation which I see at the post office over my lunch hour. Two or three postal agents will attempt to service an impatient line of customers. The people in line grouse and complain about the speed of the transactions ahead. Yet, when they themselves are in front of an agent, they dawdle and yap and shoot the breeze with the agent, weighing the value of 21¢ Delivery Assurance vs. 44¢ Signed Confirmation as if time did not exist.

Pictured: Rubbernecking

When something is visible
Even with the wrecked cars safely out of the traffic lane, the glut of stopped cars does not start flowing freely again. A virtual bottleneck is maintained because cars at the front edge of the jam do not accelerate as quickly as they could. The urge to accelerate out of the cluster is momentarily overridden with the urge to get a look at what caused the holdup in the first place: A Dodge Magnum with a crinkle-cut front hood.



Pictured: Not Rubbernecking

When nothing is visible
When there is nothing visible on the side of the road, drivers jump at the chance to accelerate out of the cluster. The front edge of the traffic jam moves backward. Fewer and fewer cars are locked in the jam until it breaks up completely.

According to a 2003 study of traffic accidents conducted by the Virginia DMV and VCU, rubbernecking is responsible for 16% of all distraction-related accidents.


Old Ideas:
Desensitize drivers to the sight of disabled cars on the side of the road.
Construct and erect a temporary curtain shielding the view from passing cars. (
Remind drivers that there are an infinite number of breathtaking accident photos on the internet.




Latest Idea:
Enlist drivers to break up the rubbernecker's bottleneck.
Slow down before the crash scene, creating a new front to the traffic jam, out of view of the crash.



Everyone in a traffic jam doesn't speed up simultaneously. The drivers who make up the front edge have to be paying attention and be willing to speed off and get back to a normal driving speed. If they hesitate, the traffic jam has a harder time breaking itself up.

Here is the plan:
Whenever you are stuck in a crash-related traffic jam, use a Special Exit Strategy, not because it will help you, but because it will help to break up the traffic jam for everyone behind you.

The Special Exit Strategy:

As you approach the end of the jam, but still have 7-8 cars in front of you, slow down. Allow a large gap to open up in front of your car. This can seem like it takes forever, but it will probably only take a minute or two.

The cars ahead of you should be reaching the end of the jam and driving away unimpeded.

When you see the last car reach the edge of the jam, step on the gas and speed up, driving clear out of the jam without hesitating.


What difference would this make? The guy behind you, if he is paying attention to your car, will notice that you've taken off, and that he is now free to bust out of the jam as well. More importantly, he is getting this opportunity BEFORE he has reached the accident scene. He has no reason to keep going slow, because he can't see the accident anyway. With luck, he will follow your lead and accelerate out of the jam. People behind him will also get the chance to leave, and with no good view of the accident, will likely speed up and drive away as well.

If the front of the jam can be pushed back 200 feet, a roadside object will have a much smalleer influence on the behavior of people who drive by.

After all, if you are accellerating or traveling at top speed, you are much less likely to slow down or stop to take a look at some broken down Volvo being fixed by a guy on a ten speed.



    Name: rishi

If you do, however look to see the car at the side, you have a much larger chance of causing a crash.

Friday 31st of July 2009 4:47 am

    Name: Ed

Simply brilliant!

Great Britain
Friday 31st of July 2009 5:24 am

    Name: starcat

just be careful that no other cars change lanes into that gap you made!

Friday 31st of July 2009 5:28 am

    Name: Nick

I always wondered if a temporary visual barrier could solve things. Bottlenecking could still cause a slowdown if lanes are closed, but at least people would drive off when they get a chance. I've been involved in a multiple-hour-long traffic jam on a 12 lane section of the Jersey Turnpike because of an accident on one of the other three sections. All that was left by the time I got there was the outline of a shipping crate and a pile of ash where the drive compartment had been. A screen wouldn't have helped much early on, but once the fires went down a screen would have done wonders. They could erect permanent screens between the four sections of highway to keep things moving smoothly, with the occasional gap to see how the other section's doing.

Friday 31st of July 2009 5:30 am

    Name: Pillbox

When I was in Germany many years ago, they'd put up a screen around the accident car. Bear in Mind this was the AutoBahn and accidents there are generally pretty grisly.

Friday 31st of July 2009 6:10 am

    Name: tps12

That book "Traffic" talked about the screens (though they apply mostly to rubbernecking in response to construction work, since the priority when there's been a crash is to treat the victims). They don't work that well because people slow down to check out the screens themselves...

Friday 31st of July 2009 6:26 am

    Name: brian

Exactly Right. In my experience, if there's a 4 car gap in front of me in traffic, 6 cars are going to try to move in to fill it. I accelerate out of it and I'll hit them causing a whole new traffic jam.

United States
Friday 31st of July 2009 6:32 am

    Name: none

Where I live, its the law that you have to slow down if there is an accident or a police car in the shoulder. This prevents turning the guy on a ten speed fixing the Volvo, into stuff on the road, and even more of a reason to rubberneck.

Gambia, The
Friday 31st of July 2009 6:42 am

    Name: rodent

The dynamics of cars on a highway is much like water in a streambed. The accident acts like an obstruction--a stream backs up at a boulder not because it is rubbernecking, but because of flow dynamics. Since a highway cannot raise its height or volume like a stream, it is even more impacted.

Friday 31st of July 2009 6:53 am

    Name: DORKIS

Works until you start to accelerate and have a douche bag pull out into the now-open space in front of you. Then you have to slam on your brakes and stay in the jam because that dude isn't accelerating out of the jam.

Friday 31st of July 2009 6:54 am

    Name: Jim J. Bullock

If you aren't in it, GO!! What's the fascination with other's misfortune? GO!

Friday 31st of July 2009 6:55 am

    Name: Meh

Dumb idea. As soon as a space longer than 1.2 car lengths opens up in front of you, the jackass to your right (or left) will pull in front of your car. Instead of unsticking things, you simply inconvenience yourself a bit more. Better idea: Just get used to the fact that "curiosity slowing" will always happen, but you don't have to be one of the rubberneckers. Trying to engineer traffic flow is a fool's game.

Friday 31st of July 2009 8:15 am

    Name: Dylan

In your image with the "skewed jam front" there are now 4 new cars in "decision time" (2 on each side of the newly created gap. It only takes one of those drivers to decide to go for that beautiful open road a few seconds early by changing lanes into your big gap to foil your plan. Do you think it's likely that at least 1 in 4 divers may care more for those few extra seconds of freedom than serving the greater good?

Friday 31st of July 2009 8:43 am

    Name: Rob Cockerham

It is OK if cars from the left and right move into the gap you opened up. It won't wreck the effect.

The Netherlands
Friday 31st of July 2009 8:45 am

    Name: Greg

In Chicago, these kind of traffic slowdowns are called "gaper's delays," presumably for the rubberneckers turning to look, mouth agape, at the accident.

Friday 31st of July 2009 8:49 am

    Name: Indonesia


Friday 31st of July 2009 8:57 am

    Name: Grigiory

Such pathetic "rubbernecks" do not happen in glorious motherland!

Friday 31st of July 2009 9:04 am

    Name: Roy

Sounds like a good way to cause another wreck. I just listen to audiobooks in my car. Being stuck in traffic becomes a lot less stressful.

United States
Friday 31st of July 2009 9:14 am

    Name: leper

OMG! CAR! Helicopter! AMBULANCE! LIMO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday 31st of July 2009 9:19 am

    Name: shMerker

Have you tried this Rob? This article is all theory. I have to say it sounds like it would be dangerous in the Seattle area where people often don't signal before changing lanes. There should be an urban legend based on this idea, where someone comes up with this idea while stuck in traffic, then tries to do it, and coincidentally the drivers directly parallel to him all do the same thing, then they all rocket off together like the blue angels and break up the traffic. In fact, now there is, because I totally had a cousin who's fiance's friend who this happened to, so it's a fact, send it to five people if you love God or five people will send it to you.

United States
Friday 31st of July 2009 9:40 am

    Name: Mauritania sounds nice.

Those photos at the beginning were pretty hilarious.

Friday 31st of July 2009 10:11 am

    Name: Rey

There is another really good write up about what Rob is explaining. Google up "standing wave traffic".

Friday 31st of July 2009 10:15 am

    Name: andy

Here's a completely alternate approach: De-stigmatize rubbernecking. Rubbernecking is just the rational and useful practice of slowing down when there's something unusual on or near the road. Zooming along at 60 only works when everything is working smoothly; When something out of the ordinary appears, the only safe reaction is to slow down and figure out what it's going to do next.

Sierra Leone
Friday 31st of July 2009 10:35 am

    Name: Map of Tunisia


Friday 31st of July 2009 11:06 am

    Name: D\'Artagnan

Alas,a gap that big would be filled in by someone in the other lanes around here (Houston).

United States
Friday 31st of July 2009 12:01 pm

    Name: Mark

Two words: Ramming speed!

United States
Friday 31st of July 2009 12:36 pm

    Name: Bob

Just don't live in cities, suckers.

Friday 31st of July 2009 12:39 pm

    Name: Francois

You could of course pull off, set fire to the car on the side of the road, thereby creating incentive to get away from the flames, or making it visible from far away so you don;t have a reason to slow down...:-)

South Africa
Friday 31st of July 2009 3:16 pm

    Name: Kris

That gap would be filled in two seconds flat in Australia too. We once got stuck on the motorway in Brisbane, 40km/h for 40 minutes, when it broke up we saw no hazards what so ever and came to the conclusion the jam was because it was raining!! QLD has 364 days of sunshine a year so that one day of rain has created a state of drivers who can't drive in the rain!!

Friday 31st of July 2009 4:12 pm

    Name: Butch

Alternatively, you could pull over to the car at the side of the road and pull out a carboard sign begging for money. Nothing gets people to studiously avoid eye contact and move quickly away like a poor person.

Friday 31st of July 2009 10:43 pm

    Name: Evil Jim

It's a good idea in theory but I suspect once you do your part the people freed up 200 feet behind you will notice the roadside object & slow down, causing trouble all over again. Still, I will try this the next time I find myself in this situation.

Saturday 01st of August 2009 2:22 am

    Name: The Biting Fly

Another strategy is to "leave them for dead". Screw 'em, your odds to win the race just got better. Or, perhaps there could be a designated shooter that immediately pulls off at the first sign of a jam and starts shooting at traffic. That should speed things up.

Saturday 01st of August 2009 8:13 am

    Name: Juan Hernandez

Have you looked at Bill Beaty's work on this? It's basically treating traffic like waves and "eating" the jam, much like you would be doing by leaving a large gap while maintaining a constant speed. It's a trucking technique too, it works!

Saturday 01st of August 2009 8:58 am

    Name: Andrew

Brilliant. I've got to try this against Sacramento traffic.

United States
Saturday 01st of August 2009 9:49 am

    Name: jm

If you look to the right but the accident is to the left, you will not see anything. Even not the car in front of you that brakes extra to see the accident.

The Netherlands
Saturday 01st of August 2009 2:02 pm

    Name: Le President de Burundi

Yah dood. This might work for the dopesmokinhippydudes in CA, but it'll never work Back East. Leaving several car-lengths in front of you in BOS-NYC-PHL corridor is saying very clearly, in car-body-language: "I am a timid and weak member of the pack. Please violate me in any way you like. If you were to punch me in the face I would very probably apologize for bruising your knuckles. Also, I am wearing a pink tutu. Not that there's anything wrong with that." And thus the common Darwinian-automotive response to such a display will normally be repeated and multiple cutting off in front of you, and frequent displays of "the bird" - aka the car-body-language equivalent of: "YES YOU ARE MY BITCH, LET ALL AROUND US SEE HOW I HAVE ABUSED AND HUMILIATED YOU!!! I INVITE MY FRIENDS TO SIMILARLY DEFILE YOU FOR BEING WEAK AND PATHETIC!!! AND YES I VERY WELL MAY PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE SHOULD I SEE YOU AT THE NEXT REST STOP! HAH HAH HAH YOU ARE A TUTU WEARING $(*(&%#)" Hey, I'm not sayin' its right, but it's East Coast reality. Now get outa my way you friggin' retahds.

Saturday 01st of August 2009 3:50 pm

    Name: Joey Joe Joe Joe

Needs more cowbell

St. Kitts & Nevis
Saturday 01st of August 2009 9:30 pm

    Name: Aborigine

has anyone seen my good friend Mick Dundee?????

Sunday 02nd of August 2009 5:33 am

    Name: Kiwi

That would work if we didn't all tailgate in NZ in the first place.

New Zealand
Sunday 02nd of August 2009 5:53 am

    Name: Mr. Reality

"use a Special Exit Strategy, not because it will help you, but because it will help to break up the traffic jam for everyone behind you." I hope you realize this is just like every other Marxist strategy that has failed everywhere it has been tried throughout history.

Sunday 02nd of August 2009 3:30 pm

    Name: Sheena

I *love* your photos of you in "traffic." BRILLIANT!

Sunday 02nd of August 2009 8:23 pm

    Name: unsituated

where, oh where, do you include time for endless honking of the horn? a traffic jam due to idiot rubberneckers isn't complete without some asshole honking his horn at the offending rubbernecker AND the accident itself as he slowly creeps by shaking his fist.

United States
Sunday 02nd of August 2009 10:51 pm

    Name: Rob Cockerham \"The Real\"

Why not just bring a gun with you and just start shooting anyone who slows down to watch a wreck on the road? The fear of being shot by the driver next to you would stop rubber necking.

United States
Monday 03rd of August 2009 12:33 am

    Name: Danimal

Monday 03rd of August 2009 5:49 am

    Name: fredricksen the third, part 4

Really, there isn't a thing you can do about traffic except keep cool about it. Listen to NPR, man. Except on weekends, it's like the Garrison Keillor marathon all weekend, and that will just illicit rage which will result in another accident.

United Arab Emirates
Monday 03rd of August 2009 9:25 am

    Name: GT

Here's an idea: Because most people seem to go out of their way to ignore and avoid homeless people, hire some homeless to form a perimeter around the crash scene. It's sad but it would probably work.

Monday 03rd of August 2009 10:20 pm


Really, just calm the f*ck down.

Monday 03rd of August 2009 10:22 pm


oh...what sort of ten speed is it? can i have it?

Tuesday 04th of August 2009 7:39 am

    Name: Joe

I'm sorry, but if I see an upside-down car on fire with a motorcyclist draped over it, I'm rubbernecking.

Tuesday 04th of August 2009 7:40 am

    Name: Paul From hamburg

Not all rubbernecking situations are created equal. I think they need to use the overhead traffic signs to let other drivers know what they'll see. If the sign says "simple two car fender bender", everyone knows they don't need to look and can just keep moving going. On the other hand, if the sign says "Car carrier off the road, on its side with cars everywhere", then it really is like waiting in line at Six Flags and everyone is calmer knowing that there will be a payoff at the end.

United States
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 10:30 am

    Name: Famunda Cheese

Large trap doors on the side of road drops cars out of sight. Nothing to look at. Problem solved. Added bonus - driver of disabled car needs to buy new car... if they survive the drop.

Burma (Myanmar)
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 2:15 pm

    Name: Obama

Why So Cialist? Don't forget to rat on your neighbors for rubbernecking by emailing

Tuesday 04th of August 2009 3:27 pm


United States
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 5:37 pm

    Name: There's an entire theory on this website about traffic jams.

United States
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 8:56 pm

    Name: Eric

Let's just put a few wrecked cars along the sides of the road and move them now and again so everyone becomes desensitized.

United States
Wednesday 05th of August 2009 6:47 pm



Thursday 06th of August 2009 6:40 am

    Name: Elkman

I've had an idea for a while. People love to stop and watch traffic accidents, but they don't want to get caught waiting for them. So, my idea is to create a cable TV channel where people can watch car accidents and disabled vehicles without putting themselves at risk. So, if you're heading home on Highway 62 and you see someone crashed on the side of the road, you can just drive by and watch the accident later, instead of having to stop and watch it there. I'd call it "The Accident Channel", or maybe "Crash TV!" and I could probably get sponsors like insurance companies, body shops, car dealers, and Billy Mays with the "Ding King." Unfortunately, I'm not a cable TV maven, so I don't know how to go about developing this.

United States
Thursday 06th of August 2009 3:41 pm

    Name: GenWaylaid

rodent: "Since a highway cannot raise its height or volume like a stream, it is even more impacted." Wait, you've cracked it! Don't put up screens around the accident, put up RAMPS! Ramps would literally raise the traffic up and over the accident so there was no loss of lane space, plus they would hide the accident from view, PLUS they would force drivers at the front of the jam to speed up so they could make the jump! Mind you, the sight of rush hour traffic leaping like salmon up a stream could make rubbernecking much worse on the other side of the highway.

Thursday 06th of August 2009 11:51 pm

    Name: voodoo

in New Orleans we just slow down for anything and hope they throw beads at us. But you can really hold your bladder function here because you get used to it while watching parades.

United States
Friday 07th of August 2009 12:40 am

    Name: Lexiphanicism

As a 20-year California driver, I have to agree with several of the postings above. Leaving space for a speed corridor sounds like a good idea, but another car will simply pull in front of you whilst continuing to rubberneck, thus maintaining the standing wave.

Antigua & Barbuda
Friday 07th of August 2009 6:07 am

    Name: Edward S. Already worked out by this guy.

United States
Saturday 08th of August 2009 6:07 pm

    Name: Ethan

My idea is that we take a whole bunch of already wrecked cars and scatter them on the side of the road at, say, one mile intervals. Once people get used to seeing the wrecks, they won't care about the real ones!

Thursday 13th of August 2009 2:09 am

    Name: qiexlgwzb

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Monday 17th of August 2009 10:18 pm

    Name: Fruit Loops

Like we do in my country, all lanes should converge to a single line and then pass by the the incedent as close as possible so everyone gets a fair look. If space permits we will sometimes allow the option for cars to circle the incedent as many times as needed and then get back in line. Although it sounds inefficent, since everyone is constantly moving and is guarenteed a good look, things actually go faster.

New Zealand
Thursday 20th of August 2009 1:20 pm

    Name: Tyler

By slowing down to allow a large gap to open up in front of you, you're just creating another jam behind you.

United States
Thursday 20th of August 2009 3:44 pm

    Name: Good idea

I'm not referring to the driving idea, I'm referring to picking any country. What a great idea! Thanks Rob!

Friday 11th of September 2009 10:54 am

    Name: chump change

I would be nice if more people sat in their cars in a parking lot an imagined they were driving on the highway. This could certainly clear up the roads for the rest of us. Good work!

United States
Friday 11th of September 2009 4:17 pm

    Name: Gavin Peters

I think this is dangerous, what you're proposing. Passing two lanes of stopped cars at speed is not wise. Cars in those lanes will be travelling slowly, and have to turn at very sharp angles if they try to change into your lane; this could happen suddenly and surprise you.

Palestinian State*
Saturday 12th of September 2009 7:09 am

    Name: bill beaty

Yep, that's exactly how one person could break up a "rubbernecker jam" in one lane. The jam isn't caused by constant rubbernecking. It's caused by a "traffic wave" which becomes pinned in place when drivers delay their acceleration for a second in order to take a brief glance. Imagine a dense wave moving backwards through traffic. Now imagine what happens if the downstream end of this wave should stop moving backwards. The dense wave starts growing larger, since the upstream edge of the wave keeps moving backwards while the downstream edge does not. It can grow to miles in length, with hours of extra delay. (I wouldn't be surprised if the wave persists even if every trace of the accident is removed. Once pinned in place, nothing forces the wave to move forward or back.) Another possibility: have the police halt all lanes at the accident site for about 30 seconds, then let the cars go. Now the wave *must* start migrating backwards again, since the cars at the accident scene are departing from the column of stopped cars. Even one driver could do this: just drive up to the accident scene and stop dead. Sit there for ?10? seconds. Longer? A handful of cars will come to a halt behind you. Since you're at the leading edge, all the lanes ahead of you are relatively empty. Now peel out into the distance! The stopped cars behind you all accelerate too, and the dense wave must move backwards away from the accident scene. The traffic jam doesn't evaporate of course, but it stops growing larger, and starts migrating backwards as a conventional traffic-wave.

United States
Wednesday 23rd of September 2009 10:00 pm

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