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Random Thoughts

Trouble Ahead

Hudson Cooper
Posted 5/10/24

Many of us take for granted how lucky we are to live in an area that offers scenic beauty as we drive on our roads. That thought came to mind last week when I was stuck in traffic as I was leaving …

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Random Thoughts

Trouble Ahead


Many of us take for granted how lucky we are to live in an area that offers scenic beauty as we drive on our roads. That thought came to mind last week when I was stuck in traffic as I was leaving Manhattan to head home.

Setting my GPS for Monticello, I cruised uptown without incident until Waze placed me, in the lyrics of AC/DC, on a “Highway to Hell.” It was midafternoon, which should have been hours before the traditional rush hour traffic. I quickly learned that the Cross Bronx Expressway has its own tradition. 

Being the main route to the George Washington Bridge, it provides a way to leave NYC behind. But Robert Moses, who was responsible for the CBE, was living in dreamland when he put the word “expressway” in the name. 

I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic surrounded by trucks, cars and a few motorcycles. Glancing at my GPS I saw that I was only 3 miles from the bridge. Forty-five minutes later, I caught sight of the bridge.  

Entering the slow-moving traffic on the bridge, I soon saw what was contributing to the brain-numbing traffic. On the incoming lanes to NYC, there was a three-car collision. Vehicles on my lanes slowed down to participate in the dreaded driving experience called rubbernecking. 

So, as we slowed past the sight of the accident, I took advantage of the long delay to make a hands-free audio note on my cell phone by telling Siri, “Random Thoughts Rubbernecking”, the subject of this column.

The word rubbernecking is thought to have originated around 1899. It began as a slang way to describe a person whose neck seems to be made of rubber allowing to swivel the head to see something unusual. It evolved in the United States as rubberneck. At first it was reserved for tourists in our cities, who stopped pedestrians as they swiveled their heads to see the sights.

Rubbernecking is a nuisance for pedestrians, but it has severe consequences on our roads and highways. Rubbernecking while driving is negligent behavior. It happens when a driver’s eyes are attracted by an unusual event. It could be an interesting roadside billboard, an eye-catching exotic car or even a loud noise. For motorists all it takes is a brief rubbernecking momentary glance away from the road, even as you slow down, to cause an accident. That accident could trigger a chain reaction as others are visually drawn to witness it, creating more fender benders.

Here is the math relating to rubbernecking. At 55 miles per hour, every second you rubberneck is about 80 feet of road traveled without seeing what is in front of you.

In some jurisdictions although rubbernecking is not illegal, it can lead to criminal charges in rare cases. For example, in some states it can be considered evidence of criminally negligent behavior while operating a motor vehicle.

What increases the severity of danger resulting from rubbernecking while driving is that you have less time to apply the brakes if the vehicles in front of you stop. Those rear-end collisions jolt the head and body known as whiplash, an injury when the head suddenly and violently moves backward and then snaps forward causing painful harm.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has statistics that say that over 30,000 people die annually in car accidents. Fatal accidents, about 97% are caused by distracted drivers either texting, making cell phone calls or rubbernecking.

To address accidents that are caused by distracted drivers, some measures to curb rubbernecking have surfaced. To prevent passing motorists from rubbernecking, some municipalities have their first responders accompanied by trucks that can quickly place large plastic barriers around the scene of the crash. 

My suggestion would be with all the advanced technology on car dashboards maybe the manufacturers could have a camera aimed at the driver. If the camera detects a driver being distracted an alarm would sound. 

Be safe my friends! Casey Jones you better watch your speed!

Hudson Cooper is a resident of Sullivan County, a writer, comedian and actor.


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