Rubbernecking: The Dangers

Blog post posted on 29/09/22 |

Do you find yourself getting distracted when driving or riding?

There is always activity happening around us on the roads. Distractions can occur inside or outside the vehicle, taking our focus away from the road ahead.

‘Rubbernecking’ is a term used for distracted driving. It is so called because it tends to be where drivers turn their head to the side, to take an extended look at something away from the straight ahead; a dangerous driving habit that many drivers easily fall into. Common distractions include roadside incidents, bright lights, pedestrian activity, emergency vehicle activity, and more.

Rubbernecking can result in a series of additional dangers on the roads. Traffic often slows down, causing delays and traffic jams. Drivers slowing down to look at something often don’t realise the impact their change of speed has caused behind them and there could be potential for a rear-end collision.

Studies have shown that, by taking their eyes of the road for just two seconds (which at 70mph is a distance of just over 31m or 100ft) a driver or rider can double their risk of a collision. It has also been recorded that around 25% of all car crashes are caused by distracted driving and 10-16% are caused by rubbernecking.

There are many reasons why a driver or rider may become distracted whilst travelling. Often, when we see an incident on the road, we find ourselves being drawn in by curiosity to see what’s going on – not considering the dangers which may result from this.

Rubbernecking is to be taken seriously. If a collision is caused by rubbernecking or distracted driving, a driver may be guilty of an offence of careless driving, if anyone is hurt during this it will be your responsibility. Lawyers may be able to prove it was a case of driver negligence, which will help victims recover compensation.

How can we prevent rubbernecking?

Keep your eyes on the road: No matter what’s happening, even if other drivers are slowing down to look at an incident or scene, resist the urge to stare and keep your eyes on the road, also be aware of traffic behind you that may be distracted and plan for this by extending your gap from the vehicle infront. This will best prepare you for the slowing and stopping of those who are rubbernecking and can therefore reduce the risk of another crash.

Using your GPS or smartphone as a sat nav will indicate if there is a queue ahead. Use this to help you anticipate that people may be rubbernecking, prepare to slow down and deal with the situations ahead. Be aware of vehicles behind you and consider increasing your distance from the vehicle in front of you.

If you see an emergency vehicle heading towards an incident, never follow the vehicle, always let it pass. You should only stop if you witnessed the accident or can offer some help.

Richard Gladman Head of Driving and Riding standards said:

‘We should all make an effort to remain focused behind the wheel and avoid distractions. We should all be aware that other road users may find themselves easily distracted and end up staring at an incident which result in them being careless in their driving. Stay alert and plan for the actions of others.

Sudden stopping or slowing to look at an incident can cause a huge risk of accident. To best manage this, keep your safe reaction gap of at least 2 seconds, watch your speed and give yourself time react to potential problems.

Any on-road incident can have serious consequences: not only do they result in physical injury, but many victims also suffer mental and emotional trauma after the incident. Responsible drivers and riders must always be looking to prevent collisions. Give the road you’re travelling on and your driving task your full attention to ensure you’re keeping yourself and other road users safe.'

If you worry about becoming easily distracted behind the wheel or feel nervous about managing distractions happening when you’re least expecting them - explore our on-road module on managing distractions.