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Putting a Cork on Rubbernecking

Nobody enjoys a fender bender. If you are in one, it can cause quite the expensive spike in your already costly insurance rates and can take out a serious chunk of your time. Yet if you are watching one occur, with the exception of providing a momentary feeling of relief that it didn’t happen to you, road accidents actually cause you to seriously suffer time-wise as well. In fact, according to Anthony Downs, author of Still Stuck in Traffic, roadway incidents cause on average fifteen to thirty minutes of daily traffic delay. Have you ever found yourself passing by a highway crash and slowing down or turning your head to peak at the gruesome results? Most people do, and it causes something colloquially entitled: Rubbernecking. That is why inventor Carl Cannova, according to a recent USA Today article that can be found here, has created an anti-rubbernecking device that can be placed around an accident. It effectively screens car crashes, amongst other things, from the public’s view. “‘What this does is protect the victim in these cases more than anything allows traffic to flow a lot smoother,’ said Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. Cannova added, ‘Keeps people from taking pictures putting on Facebook and Twitter.’”  This trend of employing road “screens” is occurring rapidly in the UK  as well. Noting this article, “The Government has bought more than 3,000 special crash site screens to stop drivers ‘rubbernecking’ when passing motorway accidents. The new partitions will be put up to deter drivers who slow down to look at crashes on the opposite carriageway and therefore slow down the traffic behind.”

So how do these inventions relate to this course? It centers around the reason these screens are needed: People in cars slow down to peer at an accident or to peer at people who have their attention focused on something other than driving (the accident itself). Imagine a driver is in the left lane of a two-lane highway, call him driver A, as a node. Node A notices an accident that has occurred on the shoulder of the road and promptly slows down to view the wreck. The drivers behind him, no matter how far behind they are as long as Node A is in their visual field, will notice that they slowed down. Either way, there will be a tendency for that driver to slow down, because they will either notice the accident as well or notice that Node A has reduced his speed. Thus drivers behind node A (call them nodes B, C and so forth) will press down on the break pedal. As this slowing continues, this causes the other drivers in other lanes to slow down at exponential rates. This causes the cars behind them to notice and also slow down, and this continues until there is a line of cars that (seemingly aren’t blocked by anything) only have room to increase their speed to a normal speed limit after they have passed the car accident. If a network were to be drawn, the nodes would be drivers, and the edges would represent the slowed speed of the cars. This type of network is a directed network, which displays how the concept of Rubbernecking can be related to what has been learned in the course lecture. This directed network graph means that arrows would be stemming from the original driver (Node A) to the nodes behind and around him (B,C, D ect.) and that the core problem is actually Node A, the first person to slow down and stare at the accident.

Installing these protection screens could aid in haltering this frustrating traffic issue. Who knows, maybe there is a new invention just around the corner that can eliminate traffic altogether!



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September 2014