Avoiding unnecessary traffic jams…
Curiosity is a huge human distraction. We often hear about electronics like cell phones which creates driver distractions, but well before those came onto the scene it was the curiosity we all seem to have with vehicle collisions or vehicles stopped on the shoulder. This seems to be the case when there’s a vehicle collision on our roads – despite the direction you’re traveling – and drivers want to slow do to take a look. It happens every day and it really needs to stop; for the sanity and safety of all road users.
Slowing down just to get a close look at what’s happening while approaching collision scenes can make the situation worse for those who are involved in the collision and those who are trying to help them. We all know – or at least should know – when passing an emergency vehicle on the side of the road (including tow trucks in some jurisdictions), we need to reduce speed and change lanes to create space for them to do their job. It helps to keep everyone safe at the side of the road. However, slowing down too much to get a good look worsens our driving culture.
If there are enough vehicles on a highway/freeway, any form of disruption to the flow of moving traffic can cause a chain reaction. As one vehicle brakes slightly, and the drivers behind them brake slightly more to avoid hitting them. This braking will eventually magnify until it creates a surge of stopped or slowed traffic. Hence, a traffic jam has been created.
Staring at disabled vehicles at the side of the road means you’re not paying enough attention to the driving environment that you’re part of. I’ve seen situations where a collision is on the side of the road and another collision happens because someone stopped in their lane to take a look and the driver behind hit their vehicle…because they too were looking at the scene.
So here’s a plan to help you become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Stay focused on the driving task and fight with yourself to ignore the distraction. Look well ahead to see what and where the problem is and keep moving as you approach the scene, unless you plan to assist those who need it. (Here’s what you can do if you want to help)
Help keep the flow of traffic moving by maintaining a minimum of 3 second following distance at freeway/highway speeds and 2 seconds at city speeds. This can help other drivers change lanes safely to create space away from the scene at the side of the road. It’s similar to a zipper merge. Tailgating blocks drivers who need to move over. There isn’t any space to blend in and they end up slowing down or stopping.
I’ve watched how drivers who tailgate end up braking a lot when the vehicle in front of them slows down. Keeping a proper following distance means you may only need to ease off the gas to slow down. That move means no brake lights which helps the drivers behind to keep moving. Gradual slowing helps to keep traffic moving. That’ll work!