What is Tailgating? It Is Not A Game.

If you’re driving a car at 60 miles per hour, how long do you think your stopping distance is?

Would you guess the length of a football field?

Understanding this, tailgating transitions from a pesky nuisance to an incredibly dangerous traffic hazard.

What is tailgating? In short, it simply means driving dangerously close behind another vehicle.

While it’s tempting to do this if you’re running late or the car in front of you is driving too slowly, doing so could put more than your life at risk.

Today, we’re diving into this topic, including what the law says about it, the different types of people who do it, and how to safely deal with them on the road.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.

What is Tailgating?

First, let’s start out with a basic definition.

As mentioned, tailgating is the act of driving too closely behind the motor vehicle in front of you. Yet, “too closely” is subjective. What does it mean in technical terms?

Technically, it means to drive behind someone at such close proximity that, if the vehicle in front stopped suddenly, your vehicle wouldn’t have sufficient distance to stop without causing a rear-end collision. In fact, this act alone is to blame for around one-third of all rear-end collisions in the United States.

There are several factors that help determine how much “safe distance” you should leave between yourself and the car in front of you. They include:

  • Weather conditions
  • Vehicle speed
  • Visibility levels
  • Degree of light
  • Other road conditions

Sometimes, tailgating can be a simple act of negligence, performed by someone who considers themselves an otherwise safe driver. Other times, it can be the result of violent road rage incidents and vehicular intimidation. Every time, it’s unsafe and poses a major risk to everyone involved.

Is It Illegal?

While there is no federal law against tailgating, most jurisdictions in the United States designate some form of legal ramification for anyone caught driving this way. In many cases, it’s considered illegal and punishable by a hefty fine.

The only caveat? Because the law can be vague, it’s difficult to enforce. That’s why it’s always smart to stay alert while you’re driving. Just as much as you want to make sure that no one is tailgating you, it’s equally important to ensure you’re keeping a safe distance between your car and the driver in front of you.

The Dangers of Following Too Closely

We’ve discussed how tailgating can lead to a rear-end collision. However, this is far from the only damage it can cause.

If someone follows behind you and you stop suddenly, you could also trigger a domino effect in which a chain reaction of rear-end collisions occurs behind you. That means not only does the car behind you crash into your car, but the driver behind them subsequently rear-ends their car and so on.

Another risk is that it can cause the car in front of you to tap their brakes. This is a visual signal and a request to back off. Known as a “brake check”, it can also cause a rear-end collision if the braking driver holds his or her foot down for even one second too long. Moreover, brake checking can also incite road rage in the offending driver, as it can appear as though the driver in front is playing a “game” by slowing down every so often.

In response, the driver could retaliate by following even more closely. Or, they could pull into the adjacent lane and begin a violent cycle of ramming into your vehicle from the side.

Types of Drivers to Watch

Although tailgating can be a form of road rage and aggressive driving, it’s important to understand that not all of these drivers are violent and looking to excite a reaction out of you. In general, there are four main types of drivers to watch. Let’s take a look at each one.

The Aloof Tailgater

This driver isn’t thinking about the dangers of what he’s doing. In fact, he isn’t thinking about much at all. He understands that driving too closely is dangerous. Yet, he’s too distracted or his mind is too busy to focus on the fact that he isn’t keeping a safe distance behind you.

Then, when you brake suddenly, he’s just as surprised as you are by the collision.

The Uninformed Tailgater

This driver knows what he’s doing. But, he does it all the time! So, it can’t be that dangerous, right?

In other words, he thinks there’s nothing wrong with his actions. Then, when a collision occurs, he doesn’t understand how his actions contributed to the crash.

The Complacent Tailgater

The third type of driver is a complacent one. He knows that what he’s doing is dangerous. He knows that he’s risking a rear-end collision if you stop suddenly in front of him. Yet, he’s become overly-confident in his driving skills and thinks that nothing bad will happen as a result of his actions.

Thus, he isn’t too worried about the probability of a crash. This complacency will continue until a collision actually happens.

The Combative Tailgater

Finally, we come to the combative, angry driver, or aggressive driver. This person knows full well what he is doing, and that it’s a risky move. Still, he does it anyway.

In most cases, these drivers are bent on intimidating the car in front of them, urging them to speed up or get out of their way. Ironically, because they’re aware of the risks associated with their actions, they’re driving defensively. This means they’re braced for sudden braking and are paying close attention to their driving. Still, they’re likely to cause a collision because they’re following so closely.

How to Drive Defensively and Stay Safe

What should you do if you believe you’re being tailgated? First, avoid the urge to give in to their demands. Don’t suddenly speed up or slow down, but try to keep a consistent speed.

Instead, keep your distance. Find a clearing in traffic and get out of their way as much as possible. In most cases, moving to the rightmost lane can help you avoid aggressive drivers altogether, as this is normally designated as the slower lane.

If you do find yourself in front of one, try to stay calm. Even if the driver is shaking his fists, making rude gestures, flashing his lights, or honking the horn. Responding in kind could exacerbate his road rage and lead to dangerous consequences. If you’re on a multi-lane road, simply switch lanes when it’s safe to do so, and allow him to pass you.

If you’re on a two-lane road, look for somewhere to pull off the road as soon as possible, even if that’s a gas station or a parking lot.

Were You Caught Tailgating?

We’ve taken a closer look at the answer to the question, “What is tailgating?”

However, sometimes we still make mistakes, even if we have all of the data at hand. If you’re caught in the act, you could face a traffic ticket, expensive fines and higher insurance rates. If this is the case, we can help.

Many times, taking a defensive driving course can help reverse or lessen these consequences. If you’re facing an auto insurance rate increase, a ticket, or a court demand to take such a course, select your state and find yours today. Our online platform makes it easier than ever to get back on the road after a temporary detour!