Whenever we poll our defensive driving students about what irritates them about other drivers, tailgating is always high on the list.
A car that tailgates you is a braking hazard AND a distraction: you'll find yourself checking your rear view mirror more often to keep an eye on them, and that means you might miss something else that you need to see.
In Comedy Guys defensive driving classes, we dedicate a lot of time to discussing the proper following distance for a car on the road, but looking around at other drivers makes it pretty obvious that we can't talk about this too much.
THE DANGERS OF TAILGATING
Having another driver riding your rear bumper is not just annoying; it's dangerous. A car that's too close probably won't be able to stop soon enough to avoid hitting you if you have to stop suddenly. Even the best driver in the world, in the best car with the best tires and the best brakes still has to answer to physics: it takes a certain amount of distance for brakes to stop a moving car, and if that car is already closer to you than that, it won't be able to stop before hitting you.
Likewise, when you follow too close to the car ahead of you, you're not giving your brakes time to do their job. This is why studies have been done to establish the safest following distances between cars.
Tailgating can also lead to road rage. If someone is in a bad mood or drunk or depressed, or all three, they may take your tailgating as a sign of aggression, and slam on the brakes, causing an collision, or an altercation. Many police officers will tell you that many road rage incidents are caused by one car riding another car’s tail. There is no reason to tailgate the car ahead of you. You get absolutely nothing out of it except possibly a ticket or a wreck.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE BEING TAILGATED
If you are driving the car that is being tailgated, there are several things you can do.
- Move over to another lane and let the driver pass, assuming there are multiple lanes.
- Take your foot off of the accelerator until you slow down enough for them to go around you. This is probably the safest thing to do, and it's usually effective: a driver that's impatient enough to be tailgating will get around you with just a little encouragement.
- It doesn’t hurt to tap the brakes to let the vehicle behind you know that they are too close. DO NOT SLAM ON THE BRAKES! You’re just adding fuel to an already dangerous situation.
- Tapping your rear view mirror is also a popular way of telling those behind you to give you some room.
If none of the above work, then just do it the old-fashioned way and stick your hand out the window — traffic permitting, of course — and wave them around.
Some drivers like to use their emergency flashers or turn a blinker on to get others to go around, but these are also ticketable offenses.
Get one of the bumper stickers that reads “If you can read this, you’re too close.” Be warned, though: Some drivers might be tempted to move up close to your car so that they can read it.
How have you dealt with drivers that were tailgating you? What's worked for you, and what hasn't?
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