We really shouldn’t, but still we do. We’re human, we can’t help ourselves. We don’t mean to be but we are no doubt the cause of the trouble. Certainly we’re held responsible for the disruptions that inevitably follow. Nevertheless we will continue the habit, for it is not one easily overcome. We are, you see, with few exceptions, by nature, rubberneckers.
Rubbernecking is, of course, merely the mobile version of the human tendency to be curious. Traveling in our cars does not in any way diminish our attraction to what is out of the ordinary especially to sights that stimulate the senses and arouse the emotions. In fact it may intensify them since we’ve but a few seconds to take in the entire scene before we pass on by and it’s gone.
What we slow down to observe are almost always roadside scenes of misfortune, even mayhem. Police radar traps and their victims, disabled cars, twisted wreckage, overturned vehicles, debris on the roadway, ambulance lights flashing, the injured awaiting transport, state troopers on the scene-that’s the human drama we strain to take in. There we are, safe and secure in our own cars, vehicular voyeurs observing but briefly, the troubles of strangers, passing scenes that are often enough decidedly grim, even gruesome. Sobering these sights surely are. We insist young ones look away, remind everyone of the inescapable hazards of reckless driving, and express a measure of sympathy for the victims as we and all the cars around us slow down in an unconscious gesture of respect in the face of such visible distress.
But in short order we are past the scene. As rapidly and as unexpectedly as we carne upon it is as fast as we’re likely to forget about it. But the situation has not gone unnoticed. A succession of radio traffic reports will dutifully convert the disturbing scene we’ve witnessed into a cautionary bulletin. “Rubbernecking delays,” it will warn listeners, can be expected.