Tailgating: what is it and why it's dangerous

Road safety tips

Tailgating is one of the most dangerous – and common – driver behaviours seen on UK roads. A shocking 87 per cent of drivers say they have experienced or witnessed it, and more than 100 people each year are killed or seriously injured as a result of tailgating. The problem is only set to get worse as work-life pressures and on-road vehicle numbers increase. Addressing this poor driver behaviour must be a priority for us all.

What is tailgating?

Tailgating means you are not keeping a safe distance to the vehicle in front and, as a result, increasing the chance of a collision should the other driver brake suddenly. The measure of ‘safe distance’ depends on the speed at which you are travelling, visibility and road conditions (such as weather, traffic and road layout).

A gap of one-second is considered close but anything shorter can be reasonably described as tailgating. The Highway Code says you should ‘allow at least a 2-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic’.

What happens when you tailgate?

When you tailgate, you are significantly reducing your chances of stopping in time as your visibility is reduced and you are unable to anticipate what is going to happen ahead. The Highway Code states the stopping distance is made up of two elements:

  • Thinking distance: how long it takes for a driver to react to a hazard and apply the brake.
  • Braking distance: the distance your vehicle travels before it comes to a complete safe stop.

The stopping distance is affected by a number of factors, such as, vehicle type, speed you are travelling, weather and road conditions, driver condition and the condition of the vehicle.

You should always allow more space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front. This will give you more time to see a hazard and react safely. By creating this ‘safety cushion’ you are protecting yourself and your passengers from being involved in a collision.

Highways England found:

  • Driving too close is a factor in one in eight road casualties, with more than 100 people killed or seriously injured each year.
  • Tailgating is the biggest single bugbear that drivers have about other motorway users.
  • Nearly nine in 10 (87 per cent) drivers have experienced or witnessed tailgating.
  • Those drivers who admit to tailgating would not dream of drink-driving or using a handheld mobile phone and believe they are really good drivers.
  • Tailgating was the third most common contributory factor in deaths and serious injuries on UK motorways in 2016.

Dealing with tailgating

What you should do:

  • Drive normally: It is easy to become stressed and intimated when you are being tailgated, but it is important to stay calm and not be negatively affected by another person’s poor driving behaviour. Drive normally and cautiously and, if safe to do so, increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front in case the driver behind attempts to overtake.
  • Allow to overtake: A tailgater may look for an opportunity to overtake so maintain a steady speed, giving them the opportunity to do so. Alternatively, pull to the side of the road, into a lay-by or at a petrol station, but only if it is safe to do so.
  • Clearly signal: If you decide to pull over, signal early and change your speed well in advance so the tailgater is aware of your intentions.

What you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t speed up: Never feel pressured to push the accelerator in order to increase the gap between you and the tailgater. This will only encourage the close follower to speed up and you could also inadvertently exceed the speed limit. Instead, continue to travel at a steady and safe speed.
  • Don’t slow down: Trying to teach the tailgater a lesson by slowing down or tapping the brake to make a point will also increase the risk of a collision or trigger road rage. Remember, never use your vehicle to force another driver to slow down.
  • Don’t stare in the rear-view mirror: It may be tempting to see who is following you, however, your attention is no longer on the road. Do not be distracted by the other driver, keep your eyes on the road.
  • Don’t make it difficult for a driver to pass: You are more likely to take risks or make mistakes when you are stressed. Making it difficult for the tailgater to overtake is not only dangerous but can cause a more serious scenario to arise. Continue to drive safely and drop back to maintain a two-second gap when the driver overtakes and pulls into the gap in front of you.

Ideal following distance

In dry conditions, you should maintain an ideal 2-second following distance. This allows you to spot potential hazards early on without having to rely on the brake in an emergency. The two seconds are made up of the time needed for thinking and stopping and in poor weather it is safer to increase that gap.

The Highway Code states you should drive at a speed that will allow you to stop safely and well within the distance to ‘see to be clear’.

It states you should:

  • Leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. The safe rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance.
  • Allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic and in tunnels where visibility is reduced. The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads and increased still further on icy roads.
  • Large vehicles and motorcycles need a greater distance to stop. If driving a large vehicle in a tunnel, you should allow a 4-second gap between you and the vehicle in front.
  • If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.

Next steps

Should you find yourself being tailgated, our advice is simple: remain calm, do not speed up and let the other driver pass if safe to do so.

We provide 1-2-1 on-road coaching for organisations and individuals to develop their driving skills. For more information, call 03330 113 113 or email contactus@ttc-uk.com

Road safety tips