You rubberneck, I rubberneck, we all rubberneck. But why? Actually, this often annoying habit has great social value.
Rubbernecking is a meme. Memes are the cultural genes that create thoughts in your head. Memes have helped us survive through millennia: imitate the meme and you live. Fail and you die. Imitation as the sincerest form of survival. If you figured out how to escape the claws of the sabre-tooth tiger, and I can imitate you, my genes will survive too.
Back to rubber-necking. We slow down because our brain is hard-wired to want to understand how that accident happened. Our brain uses the accident as a learning moment, logging the information and indexing it as new information: three cars collided because they were following too close. Car skidded across wet pavement. Driver put on brakes while swerving, flipping the car across the meridian.
Our brain logs the information and uses the alert messages so that we don’t do the same thing: so that our gene pool survives. (Wildebeest do the same thing as they walk by, watching lions devour their kin.)
So, please rubberneck away. But please process quickly, so that I can get to work?