psychology of traffic

I’ve seen this many times in the past few years, and it’s really starting to bug me. Driving down the freeway, all of a sudden there is a back up. Traffic slows from 60 down to about 40. Hmmm, I think to myself. It’s not rush hour. There must be an accident. Now, if there was an accident I would understand the slow down. Even if the accident wasn’t blocking traffic, I understand that people slow down to see the wreakage, injured bodies, whatever. But that’s not what has slowed traffic down. It was…a cop giving someone a speeding ticket!! People were slowing down to look at a cop give some goof a speeding ticket! Both the cop & the violator are pulled off to the shoulder, not blocking traffic in anyway. Yet folks are slowing down to gawk at this. My question is WHY? Why is this so fascinating that it slows down traffic for a mile? I have noticed that this happens much more on the freeway around the city than it does on rural stretches of interstate. But can anyone explain to me why people are slowing down to watch a routine police traffic stop?

You’re just now figuring out that most people are sheep? :wink: The problem is that when one person slows the person behind is forced to slow. People in adjacent lanes might slow to their speed isn’t conspicuous even if legal. The chain reaction builds on itself. The dynamics of this go far beyond psycology. The “clot” moves backwards, sometimes lasting hours beyond the the original cause.

I have only recently observed people slowing up for traffic stops. I have always seen folks slow down for accidents, but not to watch a cop give someone a ticket. That is a recent phenomenon. I also know why traffic gets backed up. What I want to know is, why do some people slow down in the first place to watch the cop do his duty? What is so exciting about a fuzzball writing a ticket that some will slow down to watch. If any dopers do this, please tell me why? Isn’t watching “Cops” on t.v. good enough?

It is possible that the cop was pulled over a car in the middle lane. The car decelerated quickly to get over to the side of the road. All the cars behid him had to slow down quickly as well. Then the car moved over a lane going REALLY slow, causing 70 mph to slow to like 20 mph and everyone was hitting their brakes. Then, because traffic is like one big snake, more like caterpillar, everyone behind those cars had to slow down too.

Think of it this way: You slowed down too, right? You did not care about the traffic stop. All the cars in front of you were probably just as unconcerned and pissed off about it as you. None of them were actually slowing down to see the wreck. You all were just victums of the dynamics of traffic.

Maybe the first few cars slow down as the guy gets pulled over because they think maybe THEY’RE being pulled over. I would probably instinctively slow down a little if a police car suddenly lit up near me, pulling someone over. Then they have to look and see WHY the cop is pulling someone over. Also, it might slow up traffic some for the cop and the other car to pull off to the side. Of course, once the guy is pulled over, it’s obvious that nothing exciting is happening, but then it’s too late- the next few cars slowed down because the people in front o them did, and so on …


BTW, the person BEHIND you probably was thinking you were gawking at the incident too. - cursing your name as he ALSO slowed down.
Everyone is on the same side here. Yet everyone blames the cars in front of them. Kinda funny I think.

Maybe they should raise the speed limit to 75 or 80 where it belongs. There would be more compliance, thus less police traffic stops, thus fewer slow downs.

…'course, if cars were going 80 there might be more accidents, thus more slow downs and backups. I haven’t figured out how to avoid this.

pk, and the rest of you, boy do I feel your frustration! And whereas you seem to be a little understanding about accident gawking, I think that ANY rubbernecking should be a capital offense. I don’t care if the Rockettes are dancing topless around a pair of decapitated Siamese twins, it’s still not worth slowing down for.

Anyway, here’s my theory: the cop-by-the-side-of-the-road scenario holds the promise of greater hijinks than just a speeder getting a ticket. There might be a good frisking, or handcuffing, or resisting arrest, or car fire, or who knows, maybe an episode of Rodney King II? Til you get a good slow eyeful you can’t be sure there’s nothing juicy to see.

“Fuzzball”?!?!?!? Who are you calling a fuzzball you mope?

Respectfully, I disagree. If the Rockettes are dancing topless, I’m stopping. I’m probably not even going to bother pulling over…I’ll stop in the middle of the damn freeway if I have to.

As for the OP, I’ve always assumed that people who slow down when they see a cop on the side of the road are afraid they’ll be seen speeding. Mebbe they’re afraid Smokey’ll get on the horn and call his buddies in or something. I, OTOH, have always felt that a cop stopped on the side of the road for ANY reason was a good reason to speed up.

Hmmm. Maybe “fuzzball” was inappropriate. How about “Troll”?
Let me explain, in Milwaukee County every time you drive under a bridge there is a Sheriffs squad sitting there.

Get it? “Troll”. Under the bridge. Trolls live under bridges. Get it? :smiley:


I knew that if I followed this thread long enough, I’d find pkbites signature. Folks, somehow she always comes back to some kind of anti-government tripe.

Pkbites, lets not be disrespectful of our friends in blue. You may be frustrated with the traffic, but the officer is only doing his job.

BTW, in case you were wondering, Dragnet is on the TV as I write this. Joe Friday is my hero! :wink:

Let’s not be disrespectful of those of us with a penis.

Besides, the sheriffs deputies here are in brown, not blue.
Anyway, I was actually trying to display a paradox…a high speed limit would decress traffic stops, but increase accidents…both result in folks slowing down to watch officers do their duty. I’m just funnin’ about the comments about the cops. Believe it or not, at one time I was a special deputy. True story! (The county sheriff was an aquaintance who I donated heavily to for his campaign. I got deputized so I could carry. There is no ccw permit in this state. When this guy retired my sd status went too. The next sheriff said “no way”.)

I apologize and stand corrected. It was an impression I got from your post about “Why Algebra?” I’m afraid I don’t remember what in that discussion gave me that impression.

Nevertheless, I find it interesting that you found a way around a public safety law by contributing to the sheriff’s campaign. Maybe government has worked for you, after all.

On my street, cars go whizzing by at an unbelievable speed. Recently, vandals shattered a window on my car. I called the police and a sheriff’s deputy (in brown) came by to take the report. He parked his patrol car in my driveway. As we were talking, I noticed that cars were actually travelling at a sane speed while the deputy’s car was there. The officer said that his car has the remarkable ability to slow traffic. Amazing. Of course, the neighbors probably wondered why the new guy (we just moved in)had the cops at his house.

which didn’t take much. For a minor you just had to take one course per semester that was part of that itinerary.
I took some report writing classes and some classes in juvinile delinquency. My special deputy status lasted from July 1989 until November 1989. It only allowed me to carry within that county (where I don’t live anymore) and did not give any arrest authority. The whole thing cost a hell of alot more than it was worth. Judges are not considered peace officers here either, and also have to get deputized if they want to carry. This is a political thing, and getting a sheriff to make you a special deputy here is extremely difficult, and as I have found out in the last 11 years, impossible!

Anyway back to the OP. I think television shows like “Survivor”, “The Real World”, “Big Brother”, “Cops”, etc. exposes what a vouyeristic society we have become.
People like to watch. I think that is a big reason for the slow down past police traffic stops. Anyone disagree with this?

Anyone considered the idea that if someone is standing fairly close to traffic, that maybe they could step back into the lane? Perhaps, but I always back off the pace a bit when I see folks on the shoulder. Never know when the unexpected could occur. I know the difference between getting struck at 60 mph or 50 mph is imperceptible, but can’t help giving that “inch”. Besides, if I whiz by the officer closely, he may just want to come visit me when he gets done there.

Ok, this thread is getting to the “tangent point”…where most replies are no longer directed at the op, rather they are replies to previous tangents…could this be “cyber-necking”? :slight_smile:

However, I feel compelled to reply, since I have had what I am convinced is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I actually SAW the beginning of a traffic jam that didn’t need to be a traffic jam at all, ala the op.

I was driving home from work on Hwy 90 in Louisiana. This Hwy is two lanes east, separated from two lanes west by about a five foot median in between. There is swamp on both sides of the road, and the speed limit is 55.

There are occasional red lights, but not too many. The street that I turn on to go home is aided by a red light. There is a left turn lane, along with a right-of-way green arrow on this red light.

As I approached this intersection, the lights were green for through traffic both ways on the Hwy. The left turn light was red, so I braked to a stop while moving into the left turn lane. To my left, there were two cars on the side of the road who apparently had an altercation of some sort. No visible damage on either car, but it was apparent that they didn’t know each other, judging by their body language.

So, I’m sitting there waiting for my turn light to turn green, and I notice that an approaching Honda (in the opposing lane, coming at me) is slowing down drastically. My first impression was that he was stopping for a late yellow light on his side. So, I looked up at my light, now expecting (based on the Honda’s actions) it to be green.

But it wasn’t green. It was still red. So, confused, I glanced at the two lights on my right (which control the main traffic flow on my side of the median…these lights should correspond with the lights on the opposing lanes). They were green. So, if these lights are green, then the Honda’s lights must have been green as well.

So, why did the Honda slow way down? To rubber-neck the two cars that were pulled off to the side of the road on his side! I even saw the driver’s head turn to get an eyeful of the uneventful situation on the side of the road!!!

A-HA, I thought, I’ve just seen the very first rubber-necker who is the ultimate cause of all rubber-necking traffic jams!! And, of course, ala the domino effect, all the cars behind him slowed dramatically as well…the domino has fallen.

I’ve been through my share of traffic jams that speed up in the end without revealing any clue of the original cause…and dammit, now I’ve seen first hand how it happens!

Just thought I’d throw it out there…

JJ Richard

Back when I lived in Los Angeles and I was an engineer, I too wondered about the cause of the freeway slowdowns. The nearest analogy I saw was the physics of compressible fluids for which there is no analytic solution. You can’t predict what is going to happen and you can’t tell where the original disturbance was.

People are stupid. That is the only explaination. In Los Angeles there is a part of the freeway that is permanently backed up. Why? because the road curves. It is not even a big curve, certainly not one you would have to slow down for. But idiot people (and I assume many of them have driven past that spot several times) are so surprised that the road does not continue straight into infinity that they feel compelled to press the brake pedal.