If you’re a first responder who regularly visits accident scenes on the side of the road (or even in the road), you probably already know what new research is confirming: “Rubbernecking” drivers are a threat to your well-being and safety.
Rubbernecking is the term used to describe drivers who spend more time with their eyes glued to an accident they’re passing on the road than they do to the road itself. It’s another form of distracted driving — and it’s particularly dangerous to first responders. Many times, police officers, firefighters, medics and tow truck drivers are concentrating on their jobs — which they should be — but that doesn’t leave them a lot of ability to look out for a driver who has veered out of their lane while gawking at an accident scene.
The National Safety Council (NSC) says that 71% of drivers have outright admitted to texting about an accident scene or taking photos when they’re driving by emergency personnel. Compare that to the 24% of drivers who admit to texting or taking photos while driving under the usual conditions, and you can quickly see how bad the problem really has become.
All that’s bad enough — but it gets worse: 16% of drivers admit that they’ve either hit or nearly hit a first responder or an emergency vehicle while they were passing an accident scene. The situation seems to be getting rapidly worse, too. In 2018, a total of 40 first responders were killed, which was a 60% increase from the year before. In 2019, there have already been 21 people killed — and the year isn’t even half over.
Nobody is quite sure what’s causing the uptick in rubbernecking, but it’s likely that social media plays a part. America’s obsession with documenting everything online seems to be growing — and accident scenes obviously make interesting news.
As a first responder, you already have a dangerous, high-stress profession. Rubberneckers make your work life even more difficult. If you’re injured while responding to a crash, make sure that you fully understand your rights to workers’ compensation — and get legal help at the first sign of problems.