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What is tailgating?

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Updated 11 Oct 2019Rachel White
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Before the cab leaves the rank, I just want to state that I am going to have to hold back a little on this one as tailgating is a pet peeve of mine, especially in car parks. More on that later but I’m fairly confident that I am not the only one who has some issues with tailgating and tailgaters.

So what is it? Tailgating is when a driver doesn’t leave sufficient distance to the car in front. This means that, based on vehicle speed and distance, if the tailgater had to suddenly react there may not be enough time for them to avoid a collision.

Is tailgating legal?

No! Tailgating is not legal. No matter which state you live in, you must leave a safe distance between you and the person in front of you.

The general rule of thumb is to keep at least a two-second gap between you and the person in front. Look at a fixed point on the road ahead and as the car in front passes that point, count the time it takes for you to pass it too. It should take at least two seconds.

If the road or visibility conditions are poor, you need to stretch that time out, especially in wet weather.

When driving, you should be constantly checking mirrors and gauging who is around you and what they are doing. We do this is so we can react quickly to get out of trouble should something happen ahead of us.

Who is tailgating?

Let’s do some profiling and shine a spotlight on some of the offenders you may come across on your travels.

Running late: This lot choose not to get out of bed on time, or they leave at the last minute. Either way, they then decide that everyone else has to move out of their way or they’ll nudge you off the road

Just one more spot: This is the bunch that see their exit coming up but want to get around just one more car before their exit. They end up behind you, sitting up your clacker, all because they couldn’t wait an extra 10 seconds.

Speed it up: In tailgaters’ world, it’s a known fact that sitting on someone's bumper automatically means the foot of the driver in front will magically push down on the accelerator. Sorry tailgaters. This is not the case and, if you’re stuck behind me, quite the opposite happens.

Petrol savers: Some people say that sitting close to a larger vehicle ahead can save on petrol. This is called slipstreaming or drafting. This slipstreaming effect is known to be true - it’s an integral part of the skills required for motor racing - but don’t do it! If you can comfortably sit that close to someone at speed and not have an accident, then you should be on the track.

Mountain goats: It’s all about speed, mountains and winding roads for these folk. “Let’s see how this baby handles,” they cry, as they tear along. Unfortunately for them, they usually do this on the weekend when the Sunday drivers are out and about in droves. The mountain goat will be patient for a while, but get closer and closer to your bumper until all patience goes out the window and they roar past you, usually just as an oncoming car is coming around the next bend.

Worst situation to experience tailgating

For me personally, it’s multi-level car parks.

This type didn’t make the list above, but I call them the bullies. If you drive a small car, you might understand. It’s a 10 km/h zone and a huge 4WD is on your bumper, headlights blinding you, music blaring, the motor revving harshly and some crass language being flung out the window.

That’s the tailgating scenario I hate the most. But, probably, I think for most drivers, the worst situation might be the highway, where patience seems to wear thin when drivers don’t know how to move into the left hand lane, or the tailgaters can’t wait until you do.

Tips on how to handle tailgaters

  • Remain calm and don’t make any reckless moves
  • If you’re on the highway, keep to the left and let them through. If you’re out on a straight, single-lane road, slow down to allow them to pass. If you’re on winding roads, wait until you reach a safe area to pull over and let them through.
  • Maintain a legal, constant and safe speed
  • Consider not using the fast lane
  • Indicate your intentions if your planning to change lanes so they do not cut up the inside of you
  • Whatever you do, do not brake check. I know it is tempting, but do not tap the brake pedal or apply the brakes suddenly. If you don’t have an obstacle in front of you and genuinely don’t need to brake, it is illegal and considered dangerous driving.

If you experience tailgaters on the road, it’s a good idea to make sure your tail lights are in working order. When you next book a service with AutoGuru ask the mechanic to check your brake lights are working well.

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Written ByRachel White

Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars.

This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.