If you’ve never heard the term “rubbernecking,” then you might think it’s unusual. However, it’s a simple term that refers to people who turn their heads to look at car crashes or other accidents outside their vehicles. By looking away from what’s happening in front of them, so-called rubberneckers actually slow down traffic and are a major cause of traffic jams. In some cases, they look away from what they’re doing for so long that they cause rear-end collisions or other crashes.

It is safe to say that rubbernecking isn’t intentional. The fact that there is a serious crash or accident near you would make you want to look. It is a problem, though, if those few seconds looking away from the road cause another crash.

Drivers pay attention to crashes when they’re visible

When a crash is within a short distance or is easy to see, drivers pay more attention to it. When a crash is obscured, drivers significantly reduce the number of times they look over to check out what’s happened. This, which has been studied in the United Kingdom and Florida, shows that blocking off the accident site and making it so drivers can’t see what has happened keeps them more focused on the road and can reduce the risk of further collisions.

Perhaps still problematic is the fact that drivers who are curious about what’s behind the barrier will still look and be distracted by it. So, there is no easy solution to prevent people from looking at crash scenes, though crash screens are a possible start.

What can you do to prevent crashes related to rubbernecking?

In your own vehicle, you can take care to pay attention to the road, slow down and focus on what’s happening in front of you. Although a crash may have occurred, it’s better to stay focused on what’s happening ahead of you, so you can move ahead and get out of the way of the emergency teams who are at the scene. If the crash may involve someone you know, pull over. You will be able to reach the scene more easily and avoid slowing down traffic.

It’s human nature to be curious about what has happened, and you may quickly scan the scene without even realizing it. Being aware of rubbernecking is the first step to limiting distractions, so remember to quickly refocus your efforts into driving, so you don’t make mistakes that put yourself or others at risk.