I hear the word “rubberneckers” on TV almost every day. It is a derogatory term for drivers who slow down as they gawk at a traffic accident, enjoying their schadenfreude. TV traffic reporters on our local evening news love it (always chesty young girls in red dresses standing sideways in push-up bras). If you listen, they are saying something like, “There is an accident coming off the southbound Schuylkill Expressway onto I-95, and rubberneckers have traffic backed up all the way to Bala Cynwyd” (a place that new reporters always mispronounce).
That irritates me, first, because that happens every night. The real news would be if nothing occurred there that evening. But mainly it is irritating because the rubberneckers, with their implied perversions, get blamed for the backup.
Drivers on every interstate highway routinely exceed the speed limit by about 15 mph. Where the speed limit is 55 mph, most will be doing 70. (The only vehicles obeying the speed limit are myself and wobbling lawn service trucks trailing black smoke. We even wave to each other in comradery.)
Then the speeding drivers see off in the distance the flashing blue lights of police cars, and of course they slow down to the speed limit for just that stretch, and this causes the backup. They are not hoping for a ringside seat to the gory details. They just want to get past this mess and get home. Horrendous traffic accidents are nothing new to interstate commuters.
The dirty little secret is that our interstates cannot handle rush hour traffic at the speed limit. Do the math. The speed limit is usually 55 mph within city limits. How many cars can pass a given point per minute at that speed and allowing the minimum recommended 5.5 car lengths between? Not enough. Now calculate at 70 mph, conservatively using the same 5.5 car lengths between (anyone leaving even that much room would find 5.5 cars trying to squeeze in). That works, and the police know it. Ever see them writing tickets at rush hour?
In today’s political correctness and sensitivity, we need a new, more supportive term for “rubberneckers.” How about “flexible sensory stem drivers?”