by Judi Bailey
“346.14: THE OPERATOR OF A MOTOR VEHICLE SHALL NOT FOLLOW ANOTHER VEHICLE MORE CLOSELY THAN IS REASONABLE AND PRUDENT, HAVING DUE REGARD FOR THE SPEED OF SUCH VEHICLE AND THE TRAFFIC UPON AND THE CONDITION OF THE HIGHWAY.”
– Rules of the Road, Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Criminal Intent – Another Danger to Tailgaters
Auto insurance companies and law enforcement agencies warn of a growing number of fraudulent claims resulting from staged accidents. Criminals looking to defraud insurance companies will provoke an accident by braking hard in front of another vehicle that’s tailgating. This is yet another reason for maintaining reasonable and prudent distances between you and the vehicle ahead.
Most states have similar rules and laws applying to tailgating. These are the road rules most commonly ignored and broken.
Maintaining reasonable and prudent distances between vehicles gives the trailing vehicle time to stop. From a practical point of view, consider the human, physical, and meteorological factors pertaining to following too closely.
Response time: Individual braking response times make tailgating a dangerous proposition. At any speed, if the driver in front brakes hard, the following driver has to react first, then depend on his or her own vehicle to stop before hitting the one in front. In an emergency, the tailgater often has no chance at all to apply the brakes, let alone stop.
Individual vehicle braking capabilities: Braking distances from 60 miles per hour can vary between automobiles by 36 feet and more. Therefore, if the lead car can stop in a shorter distance than the tailgating car, the tailgater will hit the lead car even if the two drivers stepped on their brakes at exactly the same time. At 80 miles per hour, the difference in stopping distances can be more than 70 feet – greater than four car lengths.
Road surface conditions: Differences in types of pavement and road maintenance affect braking distances as well. Vehicles generally brake better on solid pavement than on gravel or other loose surfaces.
Weather: Precipitation, temperature, wind, and other weather-related factors affect braking. Be aware of weather changes.
WHO TAILGATES, AND WHY?
Drivers tailgate for many reasons. Drivers with aggressive or angry personalities, tight schedules, or simply the desire to pass can be tailgaters. You don’t know how good the other driver’s judgment is or his or her level of experience. Some drivers have little insight into the danger they create by following too closely.
A good rule of thumb is not to trust anyone on the road. Drive alertly and defensively.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 40 percent of all automobile accidents involve tailgating.
According to analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, traffic fatalities in the United States totaled 42,624 in 2006. Of those, 384 people died where “Following Improperly” was noted as the cause and there were 40 fatalities where the violation charged was “Following Too Closely.”
Even nonfatal tailgating accidents lead to serious, life-altering injuries such as head trauma, spinal cord injuries, and loss of limbs.
AVOID BEING TAILGATED
You certainly don’t want to put your life in the hands of an aggressive, unpredictable driver. So it’s better to take evasive action than do battle. If you try to teach the tailgater a lesson by punishing or annoying him or her, you’ll only add fuel to the fire.
Try employing these strategies:
- Don’t be intimidated into speeding up.
- When road conditions allow, pull over and allow the tailgater to pass.
- Don’t set yourself up to be tailgated by driving considerably under the speed limit.
- Allow additional distance between you and the vehicle ahead. If that vehicle stops suddenly, you’ll have more room to maneuver for greater protection from a rear-ender.
AVOID BEING A TAILGATER
The standard rule of thumb for a reasonable and prudent distance between you and the vehicle ahead is to allow two seconds or one yard for each mile per hour that you’re traveling. Add to that time/distance during bad weather or when traveling on poor road conditions.
Take into account:
- Vision: Driving too close to a larger vehicle blocks your view of possible hazards.
- Reaction time: You may not have enough time to avoid objects or tire rubber flying from vehicles ahead.
- Braking abilities: Vehicles have different stopping times and distances.
- Speed: Stopping at 60 miles per hour takes longer and requires more space than stopping at 40 miles per hour.
So back off, and give the driver ahead of you a break – and give yourself one as well.