Rubbernecking Can Cause Serious Car Accidents

February 21, 2022 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Rubbernecking Can Cause Serious Car Accidents When most people hear the term “distracted driving,” they think of texting while driving, eating in the car, or reaching for a dropped phone. But there s one cause of distracted driving that everyone fails to mention, rubbernecking, which can be one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving. In a matter of seconds, a simple glance at roadside commotion can turn from something innocent to far more serious. Accidents caused by rubbernecking can cause significant property damage, serious injury, and even death.

What is Rubbernecking?

Rubbernecking is a slang term for when a driver takes their eyes off the road, sometimes even physically extending their neck, in order to observe something going on outside their car. It typically engages at least two different types of distracted driving, creating a visual and cognitive distraction. Imagine you're on your way home from a long day at the office when you come across a bad accident on the highway; one car is still smoking and one of the drivers is being loaded into an ambulance. Firefighters and EMTs are rushing around, and the other driver is arguing with the police officer on the scene. If you know that much about the accident, you were rubbernecking. Many of us are guilty of this bad habit and justify it by thinking that we're only taking our eyes off the road for a second; as it turns out, it only takes two. According to a study by AAA, taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubles your risk of causing a car accident. Consider another scenario. You're in the carpool line after dropping your child off at school. The line is moving along, but you slow down to watch a teacher scolding a student for running. Unfortunately, the car behind you didn't anticipate that you would slow down after completing your drop-off, and they run into you. As demonstrated in the example above, rubbernecking can involve the driver slowing down excessively or tailgating the car in front of them to get a better view. Both of these behaviors can leave you susceptible to a rear-end collision. The data speaks for itself; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that distracted driving was involved in 87% of rear-end collisions.

Why Do Drivers Rubberneck?

Rubbernecking stems from curiosity, plain and simple. But in this case, the expression “curiosity killed the cat” rings true; while a driver is busy checking out a scene on the side of the road, they forfeit the attention they were paying to potential road hazards, stopped cars, weather conditions, or nearby pedestrians. Ironically, when a driver risks a crash by rubbernecking, they are often looking at the scene of another car accident. It can be tempting to watch emergency personnel do their jobs, but the last thing anyone wants is to need their services. It's important to observe laws like Florida's “Move Over” policy that requires drivers to move over or slow down when operating their vehicles alongside emergency workers. Laws like this attempt to protect first responders from becoming victims of reckless drivers, and if you're busy watching someone get loaded into an ambulance instead of busy watching your speed, you may be next.

How Can Rubbernecking Cause a Car Accident?

There is a misconception that rubbernecking is harmless because the driver is in control and actively chooses to divert their attention. This could not be further from the truth. It only takes one person engaging in rubbernecking to cause a catastrophic crash. If you have a group of drivers rubbernecking (like you would during a major accident on a busy highway), the potential for disaster increases exponentially; basically, you have a herd of people driving blindfolded. In addition to being a danger to their fellow motorists and pedestrians, the traffic rubberneckers create becomes an obstacle for additional emergency responders trying to reach an accident or law enforcement trying to get to the scene of a crime. So far, we have been looking at rubbernecking as a danger on its own, but it could easily be combined with other risky driving behaviors like speeding or driving while under the influence. Any combination of these factors only increases the likelihood of a tragic car accident.

How to Prevent Rubbernecking

It seems simple enough: just don't do it. But oftentimes, that can be easier said than done. Some safety and law enforcement agencies are attempting to intervene with physical partitions to prevent rubbernecking, but in the meantime, it remains largely a matter of personal responsibility. The best advice is to set a good example. Multiple studies have shown what we all know to be true: teens and young adults, who are at the highest risk for fatality due to distracted driving, model their parents' driving behaviors. If we can successfully model safe driving behaviors for new and emerging drivers, the hope is that the number of fatal distracted driving accidents can be significantly reduced. After practicing safe driving habits and modeling them for young drivers, the next best thing you can do is hold yourself and other drivers accountable. When you get on the road, you enter into an inherent social contract with the other drivers; you each presume the other will observe all traffic signs and signals while acting in a responsible manner. Rubbernecking violates the terms of this agreement, putting you and everyone around you at risk. If you're a passenger in a vehicle and witness the driver getting distracted, speak up.

What Should You Do if You're Involved in an Accident Caused by Rubbernecking?

Car accidents resulting from rubbernecking can quickly devolve into a complicated and frustrating situation. Rubbernecking tends to have a domino effect, so you may find yourself entangled in an accident involving multiple cars, leaving you wondering, what do I do next? The answer, speak to a local car accident attorney to find out if they can help.

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your Car Accident

After an accident, you may be left with staggering medical bills, a long recovery period, and expensive car repairs. There's no need to go it alone. Let the attorneys at Dolman Law Group help you navigate the complex world of personal injury law. We are an experienced team of lawyers prepared to take on your case and get you the compensation you deserve. Give us a call anytime at 833-55-CRASH or send us an email on our contact us page.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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