Are you guilty of tailgating or driving too close to the car in front? If you are, government agency Highways England warns it could only be a matter of time before you crash. It claims that one in eight accidents on motorways and A-roads is due to tailgating. It adds that about 100 people a year die because of vehicles following too closely.
This makes tailgating the third most likely cause of crashes in the UK. It comes behind failing to look properly and not judging another vehicle’s speed accurately. It’s such a problem that Highways England has launched a campaign to draw attention to it (below). Read on to find out why tailgating is so dangerous.
Why do road users drive too closely?
Head of road safety at Highways England, Richard Leonard said: “We think most of it is simply unintentional. People don’t realise they’re driving too close to others… sometimes they’re on autopilot. Most of us do it. We drive on autopilot and sometimes you inadvertently creep closer to the vehicle in front of you.”
What should the gap between cars be?
You may remember an ad campaign that started in the 1970s claiming: “Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.” This refers to Rule 126 of the Highway Code which states drivers should leave a two-second gap to the car in front. In wet conditions this gap should be doubled. If the road is icy, the gap should be increased still further. Our recent quiz highlighted that two thirds of drivers didn’t know how far behind the car in front they should be.
How to measure the gap between cars
When the car in front passes a piece of static roadside furniture such as a lamp post, bridge support or sign, you should be able to count ‘one hundred and one, one hundred and two’ before your car passes the same marker. If you pass the marker before you’ve finished counting, it’s simple: you’re too close. Ease off the accelerator and measure the gap again.
Why is tailgating so dangerous?
Bringing a car to a halt involves thinking and doing. The time it takes for your eyes to relay what they see to the brain, for your brain to process that information, and for your leg to get the message to stamp on the brake is called thinking time. At 30mph, the Department for Transport (DfT) claims you’ll travel nine meters (two car lengths) while you think about stopping. At 70mph, that distance is 21m (about five car lengths).
Then there’s the actual stopping time. This depends on the weather conditions, the size of your car and the state of its tyres. Although the majority of cars on the road now have anti-lock brakes and stability control, it’s worth remembering that these are designed to improve the driver’s control, not shorten stopping distances. At 30mph, the DfT claims a car will take 23m (six car lengths) to stop. At 70mph, that increases to 96m or 24 car lengths.
How big a problem is tailgating?
According to Highways England it’s a huge problem. The agency’s research claimed that nine out of 10 drivers have been tailgated or witnessed it. And more than one in four drivers have driven so close to the vehicle in front they think it would have been difficult to stop in an emergency.
Highways England’s Richard Leonard said: “Tailgating makes the driver in front feel targeted and victimised, distracting their attention from the road ahead and making them more likely to make a mistake. If that leads to a collision, then people in both vehicles could end up seriously injured or killed.”
And 1992 Formula One world champion and president of the charity IAM Roadsmart, Nigel Mansell added: “Not only is tailgating aggressive and intimidating, it can also lead to a crash with a tragic outcome. There is absolutely no upside to it: you will not get to your destination faster; you are not a skilled driver for doing it; and you are putting innocent people at risk.”