Accidents + Curiosity = Congestion
Driving provides a thoroughly wretched barrier between home and work. I could enjoy my day far easier if not for the 90 minute plus commute (that can balloon to around 4 hours or more on a bad day). In a world struggling to cling on to the environment, where the atmosphere grows thin and thicker in all the wrong sorts of ways, we can do without road trips double or triple in size at the drop of a hat.
Curiosity seems to be a strong factor in the problems on the motorway. Yes, sometimes an accident will strew debris across the whole carriageway; but, more often than not the evidence of an accident gravitates toward the hard shoulder with considerable speed. Efficient emergency services want to get the traffic flowing again, but rubbernecking prevents that from happening. People cannot help but stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the smallest evidence of an accident. The chance to spot a drop of gore or a horrifically twisted wreck overcomes the natural sense of urgency that generally grips those doing 100 mph along the outside lane.
You can easily link congestion with rubbernecking just by taking an active part in one of the queues yourself. Having sat on the motorway for an hour covering half a mile, you finally reach the site of the accident – then, as if catapulted by an invisible siege engine, you go from 5 mph to maximum speed in the space of 6.8 seconds. The congestion dissipates in a moment, like a thin morning mist evaporating under the rays of the rising sun. It beggars belief.
Perhaps drivers should be required to wear some kind of crash-sensitive blinker system that prevents them looking left or right when within 5 miles of a pile up. You can see the value of the automatic traffic control seen in the movie ‘Minority Report‘, because taking the human factor out of the driving equation means more time moving toward your destination – and less time staring at insurance write-offs and distressed drivers.