To break the harsh news: there is nothing new to see at the intersection of Chagrin and Lee.
Yet, as many late-for-school-students know, the intersection of Chagrin and Lee is rubbernecking central. The Dominion East Ohio Gas Company is replacing the gas lines there, and anyone who comes to school that way risks tardiness as drivers unfailingly slow down to gawk at the construction site – day after day – even though little changes overnight.
The Chagrin-Lee construction site is just one of many that will crop up as Dominion replaces 5,000 miles of piping to increase safety and reliability of its gas lines. The project has taken a toll on Shaker’s traffic situation. The $2.7 billion effort is making students late to school—until Dec. 1, that is. Then no more excuses. “We are trying to keep the process as painless as possible for residents,” said Dominion Senior Communications Specialist Neil Durbin.
No matter. People will make it painful all by themselves. The phenomenon of slowing down to stare at unusual events beside the road has been the annoyance of drivers and passersby since the beginning of driving. It’s human psychology at its worst. The slang term for it is “rubbernecking,” and it causes miles of traffic jams and threatens teenage drivers with distraction. In Shaker there are fewer miles to jam up, but drivers somehow find a way to slow down traffic near a construction project or recent accident.
“It’s not as much the traffic as the people who drive really slowly and think that they can park in the middle of an intersection,” senior Connor Feher said.
To be fair, rubberneckers at the Chagrin-Lee site may be hoping to see something similar to the attempted robbery of a pizza delivery man foiled by a gunshot that occurred there May 19. Nevertheless, all this peeking poses a threat greater than arriving late to first period. According to “Psychology Today,” drivers who see something shocking, like a graphic accident, tend to miss what comes next—like someone’s back fender.
Not only does rubbernecking slow down traffic, but it also creates more accidents. Turning your entire body sideways to view the unfortunate victims on the shoulder can be dangerous to the car in front of you.
Attempting to solve the problem of stemming human curiosity is virtually impossible.
However, as usual, Europe is ahead of us.
In Great Britain, the government is experimenting with hiding accidents behind large screens to prevent the usual gawking at the wreckage. This proactive measure is taken before the aid arrives, hiding the fire trucks, police cars and damaged vehicles behind it. Although resourceful, the 150-foot high screen will probably be almost as distracting as the original accident.
Whether it is a construction worker popping up out of a hole in the road, or a motorcycle that careened off the road, people’s natural curiosity seems to get the better of them. No matter what, rubbernecking is dangerous in any context. And it’s a tough habit to break.
According to Scott Young, author of numerous psychology books, it takes 30 days to break a habit. That’s 30 straight days of being late to school.
But what hope is there for teenage drivers if adults can’t seem to stop staring? High school parent Anja DeGerogia admits she gawks, too.
She said, “I find rubbernecking annoying, but I myself am guilty of it.”
A version of this article appeared in print on 21 November 2011, on page 12 of The Shakerite.