My wife and I were recently driving on an interstate highway when traffic came to a screeching stop. We were accustomed to slow parade-like traffic, but we didn’t anticipate gridlock. After a couple of songs played on the radio, traffic started to creep.

One minute bumped up to two, then three, then we finally reached the source of the traffic jam in about nine minutes.

We expected there to be several mangled cars sprawled across the road, and as sure as buttermilk is bitter, our expectation came true. I’m sure my red hair started flaming when she mentioned that the mangled cars were on the opposite side of the concrete divider.

Gawkers were opening their car doors and hanging out of their car windows to shoot pictures and take videos with their cellphones. Some had drool running down their chin and some were bellowing for more. We joked that no one was hawking popcorn.

It was a spectator event without anyone selling tickets. Certain people gawk because they feel concern and fear for others, while some people are just nasty and nosy. Some people gawk because they are stressed by disturbing injury, and a few people gawk because they’re rude. From a law enforcement standpoint, gawking at unfortunate people who’ve lost their property, a relative or their life, is a sick arousal of pleasure. Some people say that gawking is like having a gruesome personal interest.

Gawking means to stare openly and stupidly. It is the act of rubberizing the neck so that the eyes don’t miss staring at anything. The National Safety Council says that 71% of American drivers admit that they take pictures or text while they are driving past an incident with emergency workers. Shockingly, 60% of those drivers admitted that they instantly posted a comment or photograph on social media. Last year, 40 first responders died in the United States after being hit on the side of the road. Gawkers must have genial fun about bloody traffic accident scenes.

In jest, I am surprised that someone hasn’t invented a card game called Gawking. With millions of automobiles on American roads, a Gawking game could eliminate counting satellite dishes, outhouses, cemeteries and various state licenses plates. It could keep children from asking, “Are we there yet?” Players could draw cards and earn points by looking for someone digging in their ear, scratching, or even picking their nose.

Most areas could benefit from laws that prohibit gawking or rubbernecking. But writing the words for such a law might be as difficult as enforcing it. Here are some of the reasons that drivers might unnecessarily brake for accidents on the side of the road. “I thought I recognized a family member’s car. I slowed down because of heavy traffic. I wasn’t sure which side of the road the accident was located. My car stalled, or oh, I thought I was legally supposed to stop or slow down for a traffic accident.” There likely will never be such a law, because we already have similar laws relating to distracted driving. So, how is that working for you?

Rubbernecking and gawking causes accidents because many drivers use their brake pedal as a “looky here” pedal. When drivers in the lead apply their brakes, the trailing drivers slam on their brakes to avoid a rear end collision. That often doesn’t work out well.

Any driver can be distracted by children playing, a siren, or even a runny nose. But gawking is a deliberate choice to quench a thirst to see gore after a crash. Rubbernecking and gawking can be a nightmare for experts and other drivers. Fortunately, portable barriers are being created that prevent drivers from falling from their car window trying to see blood and guts at accident scenes.

Why do people seem to enjoy or stare at car crashes? Some researchers say that disgust makes people feel better. It holds people’s attention and keeps them entertained. It doesn’t seem to matter how much blood is spilled; gore keeps people on the edge of their seats. Some experts say that gore makes everyone hope that something good will eventually happen.

Hordes of people flock to see gory movies in theaters because gore seems to eliminate some people’s negative memories. Drivers who flock to see gory traffic accidents join the choir and gawk in harmony with others. Drivers can choose to gawk and become part of the gore, or drive goreless and improve their chance for a future.

Charlie Sewell is a retired Powder Springs police chief. His book “I’d Rather You Call Me Charlie: Reminiscences Filled With Twists of Devilment, Devotion and A Little Danger Here and There” is available on Amazon. Email him at retiredchiefsewell@gmail.com.

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