Rubberneckers and Morbid Onlookers

Perhaps it’s curiosity, perhaps it’s just human-nature, or maybe it is simply the selfish thought ‘I’m glad it wasn’t me’ – but those who stand gawping at the scenes of accidents both intrigue and disgust me in equal measure.

As I walked towards the train station this evening a traffic jam was building in the city centre, as I continued to walk the buildings on either side of the street were illuminated by the blue flickering of assembled police cars and ambulances. Cones and police-tape formed a makeshift barrier across the road and a police officer circled large loops in the air with his arm, encouraging the cars to keep moving through the diversion. Every driver passed the policeman with their neck straining towards the scene further down the road. A fire-engine, an ambulance with doors already open, a double-decker bus with hydraulic rams inserted under it, tilting it to an unnerving angle. A dozen people in luminous jackets were crouching on the ground in a tight huddle around the front wheels of the bus. They operated gently, precisely, and quietly.

I didn’t have any desire to look in any more detail. I overcame the human need to be the one with the most information, the one who saw it all, the one with the most graphic story to tell. I continued on at my usual pace, a Tesco bag in either hand, towards the station. I crossed the road between stationary cars and on the opposite pavement I had to push through a crowd of some thirty or forty people. Their shopping bags and briefcases were placed by their feet on the pavement. A couple of people stood on tip-toes to get a better view. Sure, some of them were likely on the bus, requested to stay whilst details and witness statements were taken; but a not insignificant few, I fear, were simply passing the scene and decided out of some morbid curiosity that they wanted to watch the event unfold. They took the time out of their evening to stand and watch the possible death of another human. Some had phones resting in their palms, yes – possibly telling relatives that they were okay, but equally likely to be texting news from the scene to their friends; thumbing the graphic details into their Blackberries as someone’s entire universe could be in the balance. Be it a fatality or not they appeared to be taking a perverse interest in simply having a story to tell when they got home, to feel in-the-know because they were at the scene; a genuine witness to a terrible event that will devastate a family they don’t even know. Perhaps I to, in publishing this blog, also continued on my way with a story to tell? Although, I hope you have gathered from my distaste of those in the crowd, phones in hand, that my blog has been written out of concern and not a desire to be an opportunistic voyeur.

Perhaps I’m a cynic? Maybe I’m unfairly thinking the worst of those passers-by, simply too shocked by the scene to look away, but I can’t help but feel that selfish intentions are at play when crowds gather at the scenes of accidents. If someone is hurt and needs help, it is a human responsibility do everything you can. If someone is already being helped by those who know better, please pay the victim the simple respect of not pushing to the front to get a better view as a 14-tonne bus is lifted from their crushed body.

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