Skip to Content

What is gawking in driving?

Gawking while driving refers to drivers becoming distracted by looking at things outside of their vehicle that catch their attention. This could include looking at accidents, police activity, construction sites, billboards, scenery, or other interesting sights. Gawking takes the driver’s eyes and focus away from the road, which can lead to dangerous situations.

What causes gawking while driving?

There are several factors that can lead to gawking while driving:

Natural curiosity

Humans are naturally curious creatures. When we see something out of the ordinary, flashy, or interesting, it grabs our attention. Our brains are wired to be attracted to novel stimuli. This instinct doesn’t shut off just because we’re operating a vehicle.

Desire for stimulation

Driving for long periods can become mundane and boring. Seeing an accident, police chase, or other dramatic incident can provide excitement and stimulation for a driver. Some drivers may purposefully look for these occurrences to combat boredom.

Lack of focus

Some drivers simply allow their minds to wander and do not stay vigilant on the road. Letting one’s focus drift can lead to gawking behaviors.


Technology and other distractions inside the vehicle can divert a driver’s attention away from the road. This may make them more likely to start gawking if they see something externally interesting.

Types of gawking distractions

Some common external distractions that lead to gawking include:

Accident scenes

Seeing an accident triggers natural curiosity and concern. Drivers often stare and look for victims, damage, and emergency responders. Rubbernecking at accident scenes is a leading cause of secondary accidents due to gawking drivers.

Police activity

Flashing lights and crime scenes draw attention from passing drivers. People want to see what happened and catch a glimpse of any action. Police activity ranging from traffic stops to arrests can lead to gawking.


Fires, whether vehicle, home, or brush fires, are visually stunning and intriguing. Drivers will strain to see the flames, smoke, fire trucks, and commotion. Large fires can cause major slowdowns from gawkers.


Catching a glimpse of a celebrity in public causes excitement. Drivers may recognize a star athlete, musician, or actor and become distracted. celebrity.

Inappropriate gestures

Rude gestures from other drivers or pedestrians can offend, anger, or shock motorists. Some drivers may fixate on the source of an inappropriate gesture.

Revealing clothing

Scantily clad individuals naturally attract attention. Drivers may gawk at pedestrians wearing minimal clothing.


Cute, strange, or exotic looking animals can turn heads. Drivers may spot an unusual bird, a horse, or other uncommon creature and become transfixed.

Natural scenery

Beautiful landscapes, stunning sunsets, and interesting geographical features may awe drivers. Mountain vistas, oceans, lakes, and other natural attractions invite gawking.


Unique or impressive architecture such as stadiums, towers, and bridges gets attention. Drivers stare at massive buildings, construction projects, and aesthetic designs.


Billboards are designed to grab attention with colorful images and brief messages. Digital billboards with changing displays can be even more distracting.

Crash sites

The twisted metal, broken glass, and vehicle damage of a crash intrigues motorists. Drivers will slow down and gawk at the aftermath of collisions.


Major events like concerts, festivals, and parades draw crowds – and rubberneckers. Drivers will gape at the activities, crowds, and exhibits.

Dangers of gawking while driving

Gawking while driving poses substantial risks, including:


The act of gawking diverts attention away from the roadway, vehicles, and potential hazards. Focus is redirected towards the source of fascination. This increases the chance of missing critical events and reactions.


As vision turns towards the gawking object, hands can turn the wheel towards it as well. The vehicle may drift out of its lane or into other traffic.

Speed mismatches

Looking away allows vehicle speed to fluctuate up and down. Gawking drivers may travel slower or faster than appropriate for conditions and traffic flow.


Inattentive gawking drivers increase their risk of rear-end, sideswipe, and other collisions. Vehicles ahead often decelerate or stop unexpectedly. Distracted gawking can prevent timely reactions.

Run off road

Extreme veering while gawking can send a vehicle off the roadway into ditches, poles, buildings, or pedestrians. Curbs and shoulders offer little traction for recovery.

Secondary crashes

Gawkers themselves can prompt secondary accidents and chain reactions. Slowing or stopping on high speed roads creates hazards for other motorists.

Rubbernecking delays

Multiple gawkers at a single scene can severely reduce roadway capacity. This backup of traffic leads to congestion and slowdowns even after the original incident ends.

How common is gawking while driving?

Gawking and rubbernecking on roadways is unfortunately extremely prevalent:

10% of all crashes involve distracted driving

Per the NHTSA, distracted driving contributes to 10% of all police-reported crashes in the United States. Gawking is included under the umbrella of distracted driving behaviors.

At least 1 in 5 drivers rubberneck

Surveys indicate 20-30% of drivers admit to rubbernecking and slowing for a roadside incident. Rates may be even higher in reality.

Up to a 500% increase in crashes

Studies show collision rates increase by 500% within the vicinity of an accident scene, attributed to gawkers.

55% stare at roadside incidents

Per a Canadian study, 55% of drivers admitted to staring at roadside incidents “very often” or “fairly often.” Just 17% said they “never” look.

93% of Americans are distracted daily

AAA Foundation research found a stunning 93% of Americans engage in distracted driving behaviors each day. Gawking is one of the distraction types.

Driver Behavior Frequency
Talking on a handheld phone 52%
Adjusting vehicle controls 49%
Eating or drinking 47%
Using touchscreens 34%
Mind wandering 27%
Reading 10%

Tips for avoiding gawking

Drivers can take the following steps to reduce gawking behaviors:

Keep your eyes on the road

Make an effort to actively scan ahead and to the sides, glancing in the mirrors every 5-7 seconds. Stay focused on the driving task at hand.

Secure loose objects

Store anything not essential away and out of sight. Remove or fasten anything that could become a distraction inside the car.

Adjust vehicle systems beforehand

Complete any necessary climate, radio, seat, and other adjustments before traveling or do so during long stops. Program GPS while parked if needed.

Minimize technology use

Only touch infotainment or GPS when safely parked. Let calls go to voicemail and silence non-emergency notifications.

Limit conversations

Conversing with passengers can divert attention. Keep chats simple with passengers and avoid heated debates.

Have passengers assist

Ask passengers to handle phone calls, GPS programming, and other tasks so you can keep your eyes on the road.

Plan your route

Map out your trip and program the GPS in advance so you know where to turn without constantly glancing down.

Pull over if needed

If you must attend to distractions, find a legal and safe opportunity to pull over and park. Then handle tasks stopped on the shoulder.

Laws around gawking while driving

Though rarely targeted specifically, gawking behaviors may violate certain laws:

Reckless/careless driving

General reckless or careless driving statutes may apply to rubbernecking. Failing to pay attention and maintain control of a vehicle carefully meets these definitions.

Failure to reduce speed

Many states require drivers to slow down or move over for stopped emergency vehicles. Gawking and continuing at full speed by a traffic stop violates this.

Following too closely

Fixating on an external distraction could cause tailgating and violating minimum following distance intervals defined in various laws.

Failure to keep in proper lane

If veering into other lanes or off the road while gawking, one may violate lane control laws.


Accelerating to get closer to a gawking target could surpass posted speed limits and be ticketed as speeding in some cases.

“Rubbernecking” laws

A few jurisdictions specifically prohibit rubbernecking or penalize slowing unnecessarily to look at wrecks or incidents.

Penalties for gawking while driving

Though dependent on the specific infraction and jurisdiction, penalties may include:


Fines of $50 up to several hundred dollars are common for rubbernecking violations. Add $10-50 in court fees.

Insurance increases

Tickets raise insurance rates. Gawking crashes can greatly increase premiums, costing hundreds to thousands extra annually.

License points

2-5 license demerit points may be assessed against one’s driving record depending on the state. This scales fines and suspension risk.

License suspension

Egregious cases or accumulating high points may prompt a driver’s license suspension – ranging from 30 days up to a year without driving privileges.

Jail time

Rarely for gawking itself, but reckless driving convictions and repeat serious offenses can warrant jail sentences in some locales.


Gawking and rubbernecking are hazardous but preventable driving behaviors. Drivers should keep their full attention on operating their vehicle safely. Distractions must be minimized and eyes locked on the roadway. With discipline and focus, motorists can eliminate gawking tendencies and improve safety for everyone sharing the road.