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.
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
Friday 31st of July 2009 5:24 am
just be careful that no other cars change lanes into that gap you made!
Friday 31st of July 2009 5:28 am
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
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
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
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.
Friday 31st of July 2009 6:32 am
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
Friday 31st of July 2009 6:42 am
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
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
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
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.
Friday 31st of July 2009 8:45 am
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
I'm an INDONESIA!
Friday 31st of July 2009 8:57 am
Such pathetic "rubbernecks" do not happen in glorious motherland!
Friday 31st of July 2009 9:04 am
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.
Friday 31st of July 2009 9:14 am
Helicopter! AMBULANCE! LIMO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Friday 31st of July 2009 9:19 am
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.
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
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
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.
Friday 31st of July 2009 10:35 am
Name: Map of Tunisia
Friday 31st of July 2009 11:06 am
Alas,a gap that big would be filled in by someone in the other lanes around here (Houston).
Friday 31st of July 2009 12:01 pm
Friday 31st of July 2009 12:36 pm
Just don't live in cities, suckers.
Friday 31st of July 2009 12:39 pm
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...:-)
Friday 31st of July 2009 3:16 pm
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
Friday 31st of July 2009 4:12 pm
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
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
Saturday 01st of August 2009 8:58 am
Brilliant. I've got to try this against Sacramento traffic.
Saturday 01st of August 2009 9:49 am
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.
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
has anyone seen my good friend Mick Dundee?????
Sunday 02nd of August 2009 5:33 am
That would work if we didn't all tailgate in NZ in the first place.
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
I *love* your photos of you in "traffic." BRILLIANT!
Sunday 02nd of August 2009 8:23 pm
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.
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.
Monday 03rd of August 2009 12:33 am
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
United Arab Emirates
Monday 03rd of August 2009 9:25 am
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
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.
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.
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 2:15 pm
Why So Cialist?
Don't forget to rat on your neighbors for rubbernecking by emailing email@example.com
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 3:27 pm
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 5:37 pm
There's an entire theory on this website about traffic jams.
Tuesday 04th of August 2009 8:56 pm
Let's just put a few wrecked cars along the sides of the road and move them now and again so everyone becomes
Wednesday 05th of August 2009 6:47 pm
Name: FUCK YOU COCKERHAM
A FATWA ON YOUR SOUL COCKERHAM FOR PEDALING THIS ANTI-ISLAMIC MATERIAL
Thursday 06th of August 2009 6:40 am
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.
Thursday 06th of August 2009 3:41 pm
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
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.
Friday 07th of August 2009 12:40 am
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.
Saturday 08th of August 2009 6:07 pm
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
jds1wy fbuxtoufwzaa, [url=http://hjqbirbarbuu.com/]hjqbirbarbuu[/url],
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.
Thursday 20th of August 2009 1:20 pm
By slowing down to allow a large gap to open up in front of you, you're just creating another jam behind you.
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!
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.
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.
Wednesday 23rd of September 2009 10:00 pm