On the Road

Is there anything worse than a traffic jam?

Of course, there are worse things in life, but for whatever reason, traffic jams seem to always occur on Friday evening on your way home from work when you just made plans with your family.

After sitting in traffic for what seems like an eternity because people do not know how to merge, you finally approach the scene that caused the backup, only to notice it was a minor fender bender (and thankfully, no one was hurt).

As you zip by and finally get to accelerate, you become perplexed as to why there was a backup for a minor accident or car on the road. The answer:


We have all heard about rubbernecking – driving extremely slow to stare at an accident – but does rubbernecking cause a delay in traffic?

Is there a solution to rubbernecking and potentially mitigating the chances of backups using technology? Today, we set out to answer just that.


Does rubbernecking really slow down traffic?

While we are all guilty of rubbernecking (you just waited fifteen minutes to get to the point of finally seeing what happened, you might as well gawk at what occurred), the question remains does it cause a slowdown.

It is complicated to measure whether it was rubbernecking that caused the slowdown, the bottleneck from the accident, or even some combination of the two. Remember that rubbernecking when approaching the accident is bad enough, but it occurs in unaffected lanes – like traffic heading in the opposite direction.

To see if rubbernecking impacted slowdowns and how to curb it, students at the University of Central Florida decided to try an experiment. Using three groups for their study, the psychology students tested if drivers slowed down when they saw:


  1. A full barrier completely blocking the view of the accident,
  2. A partial barrier obscuring most the scene,
  3. No barrier at all.

Using eye-tracking goggles, the students and their professor tracked how long each subject stared at the different scenarios on the side of the road. When a barrier blocked the “wreck,” drivers spent on average just four seconds looking at the scene of the crash.

However, to no surprise, without a barrier, drivers spent three times as long not just looking at the wreck but slowing down significantly too! In other words – rubbernecking is a genuine issue, and it slows down traffic.


Efforts to Control Rubbernecking

If you do not think rubbernecking is a real problem, consider this:

States and countries have explored options to prevent the unique phenomenon from occurring.

“Incident screens” designed to fully encompass a car wreck or issue on the side of the road have been used to help keep traffic flowing at an average pace. It might be worth expanding if you’re asking why they would want to prevent rubbernecking?

Not only does rubbernecking cause a slowdown, but it is also actually one of the top “Distraction-Related” reasons for automobile accidents. Rubbernecking was even in the book 100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life and What You Can Do About Them as something we can control.

However, preventing rubbernecking and saving commuters time by leveraging technology might be the best solution.


Better Ways to Prevent Traffic Issues With Technology

Efficient cities, efficient transit, and efficient driving is not just some grand ideal. It is possible.

Preventing rubbernecking with a barrier is treating the symptoms, not the root cause. With Intelligent Transportation Systems and Smart Corridors, it is possible to mitigate accidents and the flow of traffic around them when multiple technologies work in coordination.

Take, for instance, the Lyt.speed cloud-based Intelligent Transportation System.  As a part of an overall Smart Corridor system, sensors would detect an accident on the freeway and the potential for rubbernecking. These sensors would transmit the detection data to aid traffic management centers with data to intervene.  

Solutions can be utilized, from changing all the signs along the freeway to reflect a lower enforced speed limit to informing drivers which lanes are closed.  Naturally, drivers will typically divert to side streets when there’s an accident on the freeway, so using this “integrated mobility corridor” is key.  Using these technologies a controller at a traffic management center could take over traffic signals on frontage roads and side streets to redirect/prioritize traffic. The traffic management center can tell drivers where and when to get back on the freeway using messaging signs.

Using LYT’s hardware agnostic solutions, the operational piece of the puzzle can be solved by providing transit signal priority and emergency vehicle preemption, adapting to current traffic conditions. These technologies ensure transit and first responders remain the priority on frontage and side streets in these dynamic traffic situations while ensuring that any traffic is cleared out ahead of it.

For more information about smart corridors in use today, be sure to read about this Bay Area initiative. To learn more about LYT’s cloud-based, intelligent cloud-connected traffic management solutions, visit https://lyt.ai/.


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