Tailgating crashes are becoming an epidemic in the U.S. When a driver tailgates, or follows another vehicle too closely, it prevents them from avoiding a crash when the vehicle in front of them brakes suddenly.
To help your teen understand this problem, let’s have a look at the psychology of tailgaters. Drivers choose to tailgate other vehicles for a myriad of reasons:
- The first type of tailgater is a driver who isn’t thinking about what could happen if the vehicle in front of them decides to brake for some reason. They may know tailgating is dangerous, but their mind is so distracted when driving that they don’t consider their current situation. When the vehicle in front of them brakes suddenly, the tailgater simply runs into them.
- There is also the ignorant tailgater. Some drivers may not have any clue tailgating is dangerous and they tailgate other vehicles all the time. Of course, when a vehicle in front of them does unexpectedly brake, they crash into them and have no idea how they contributed to the crash.
- Another very common tailgating problem concerns complacency. The complacent tailgater knows tailgating is dangerous. They also know they may hit the vehicle in front of them if it suddenly stops. They have probably been tailgating for years but have never actually crashed. This leads to them not worrying about the risks of tailgating, a complacency which will continue until the inevitable crash happens.
- Finally, there is the aggressive tailgater. These drivers know full well they are tailgating, understand they are in a potentially dangerous situation, but they tailgate anyway. Their purpose in most cases is to intimidate the driver in front of them; to either speed up or move out of the way. Since they are aware of the dangers of tailgating, they may try to stay ready for sudden braking in front of them and pay close attention to their driving while tailgating. Still, they may crash into other vehicles because they are following too closely.
These types of tailgaters have been on the roads for decades, so, why are things getting worse? Smartphone use behind the wheel is at the center of the huge increase in vehicle crashes in the U.S. and is also linked to the tailgating problem. These drivers still tailgate, but now they are distracted by their smartphones while they do it.
To avoid the dangers of tailgating, I recommend all drivers follow other vehicles at a safe distance. What qualifies as a safe distance can depend on road conditions, but I generally use a two-to-three second following distance on a clear day. If conditions are wet or it’s dark out, I find an increase to about four seconds works. In snow or patchy fog, using an even longer following distance makes good sense.
If I am being tailgated, I maintain a safe speed, watch my mirrors and carefully increase the distance between myself and the vehicle in front of me. So, on a clear dry day, with a tailgater behind me, instead of two-to-three seconds following distance I use five-to-six seconds. This extra time gives me double the distance to react to the driver in front of me and lessens my need to brake suddenly and possibly have the tailgater behind hit me.
If I am on a multi-lane road and it is safe to do so, I’ll move out of my lane and allow the tailgater to pass. NOTE: It is always much safer to let tailgaters pass and get them out of your driving space. Never antagonize a tailgater by braking or driving more slowly, as this can lead to road rage incidents.
I am a professional race driver and tailgating another race car is how we race, but we call it drafting. Despite my driving skills, I would not be able to avoid hitting a vehicle in front of me in a sudden slow down if I was tailgating. Tailgating takes away options and we always need to keep options open to avoid a crash.
When I talk with parents and students, one question I like to ask is: how many feet would it take for your vehicle to come to a complete stop from 60mph? In all my years of talking to hundreds of thousands of students and parents, I have yet to find one person who knew with any confidence how many feet it would take their vehicle to stop. It can take much longer to stop your vehicle than you’d think, and larger vehicles, such as full-size pickups and SUVs, can take even longer.
This means that, even in a perfect world where a tailgater brakes at exactly the same moment as the vehicle in front of them, they might still crash due to different vehicle braking distances. This kind of information really wakes people up to the dangers of tailgating so don’t be afraid to share it with your fellow drivers.
Be safe out there everyone!