Rubbernecking and distracted driving dangers

Illuminated motorway sign, queue caution, traffic passing below, day.

Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 12 April 2021

What's rubbernecking and what does it mean for drivers? Learn why traffic builds up on both carriageways and why it's best to keep looking at your side of the road.

A quick question, loyal reader: have you ever heard the word ‘rubbernecking’? If you have, you’re most likely to associate it with slow traffic and the distant blink of police lights.

For those of you who have not come across it, here’s a bit of background. Rubbernecking is the act of staring at something of interest. The term refers to the physical act of craning the neck to get a better view.

In this instalment of the blog, we’re going to take a closer look at rubbernecking and show you why it’s a bad deal for drivers everywhere.

How it begins

Have you ever been on a motorway and found a traffic jam ahead, only to discover that the hold-up was on the opposite carriageway? In this situation, the drivers ahead of you may be causing queues by slowing down to look (rubberneck) at an incident on the other side of the barrier.

How does this happen? Well, most people automatically sense danger when they take their eyes off the road, so, in order to compensate for this, they slow down to allow themselves more time to look. Drivers behind then have to slow down too, and they may be rubbernecking in turn, completely unaware that traffic behind them is backing up … Not good.

Stay focused on the road

OK, hang on to your (virtual) hats; it’s time for some soft science. Let’s suppose that you’re no longer looking at the road in front of you. Your attention has been grabbed by something that’s brought traffic to a standstill on the other carriageway. If you were travelling at 70 mph and you took your eyes off the road for just 3 seconds, by the time you looked ahead again you would have driven the length of a football pitch!

With that in mind, it’ll come as no surprise to you that the main point to take away is ‘focus on the road and let the professionals deal with whatever’s going on’. After all, driving your car is your responsibility. You do not actually need to know the details of the incident. Rubbernecking only puts you and others in more danger.

If you’re keen to read some more top advice, then take a look at our Advice section. You’ll find loads of information, as well as links to the official range of DVSA titles in our shop.

Back to top