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Beware: Rubbernecking can lead to secondary crashes

Stop and think about the last time you drove by a car accident scene. Traffic probably slowed down; police may have been rerouting traffic; ambulances could have been racing up behind you on the shoulder of the road. It may have seemed natural to take your eyes and attention off the road and turn toward the accident.

This is referred to as rubbernecking, and while it may seem harmless, it can lead to serious accidents. Rubbernecking can slow down traffic, exacerbating congestion and making drivers more frustrated. It is essentially distracted driving, which is very dangerous.

Rubbernecking can cause drivers to drift into other lanes or rear-end a stopped or slowed car in front of them. Like any type of distraction, staring at an accident scene means that a driver is not looking at the road and is not focused on the task of driving. And, because of all the chaos and congestion surrounding accident scenes, even a brief distraction can lead to a collision.

As this Freakonomics article notes, there are accident screens that can hide a crash scene and take away the temptation to slow down and gawk, but they are not typically used in the U.S. and they have practical limitations.

Outside of these screens, the only way to prevent rubbernecking is for individual drivers to decide to ignore the scene and stay focused on the road. In reality, unfortunately, this won't always happen and people will wind up causing an accident because they are looking at the aftermath of another accident.

Thankfully, secondary accidents are often less severe than the initial accidents. This is due in large part to the fact that traffic slows down considerably around accident scenes. However, injuries can still be suffered and damage can still be significant whenever two vehicles collide.

Whatever the source of a driver's distraction may be, victims of a distracted driver should take seriously their legal options to pursue compensation. Insurance payments won't always cover the injuries suffered, and you should not have to pay for the physical, emotional and financial damage resulting from someone else's bad driving.

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