Tailgating is the illegal and dangerous habit of driving too closely to the vehicle in front. If the driver in front brakes suddenly, the tailgating driver has very little time to react, risking an unavoidable and potentially fatal collision.
Almost nine in ten drivers surveyed by Highways England said they’ve experienced it themselves or witnessed it, while 25% of drivers admitted to tailgating other vehicles.
Unfortunately, it’s estimated that tailgating is a factor in one in eight casualties on Britain’s motorways and A roads.
What are the penalties for tailgating?
Tailgating is categorised as a Careless Driving motoring offence. It commonly incurs the penalty code CD20 (driving without reasonable consideration for other road users) or CD30 (driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users).
If a tailgating incident leads to a fatality, however, it’s possible the driver may face the more serious penalty code CD80 (causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving).
The police have the powers to issue fixed penalty notices for drivers caught tailgating. Penalties can range from a £100 on the spot fine and three points on your licence, but more serious incidents are dealt with through the courts, and could result in a driving ban or even a prison sentence.
As well as putting lives at risk, a Careless Driving conviction arising from tailgating can also make it harder to find affordable insurance.
The reasons that drivers tailgate
Tailgating is frequently, but not always, used as a deliberate tactic to intimidate other drivers. Victims report feeling scared, angry and frustrated.
Culprits use bullying tactics like driving too close, flashing their lights or sounding their horn to get you to move out of their way, even if you’re driving at the speed limit on that road.
There’s no justification for this dangerous behaviour, even if, in their opinion, you’re driving too slowly or hogging the lane.
Accidental tailgaters may do so because they’re just not paying proper attention to the road, or perhaps through inexperience and a lack of understanding of the correct stopping distances. Though unintentional, the potential consequences of a collision are just as real to both drivers.
What to do if you’re being tailgated
- Don’t speed up. You might want to put some daylight between you and the vehicle behind, but this exacerbates an already dangerous situation, as the tailgater will probably speed up, too
- Do continue to drive safely and cautiously at an appropriate speed for the road
- Do be aware of the tailgater’s presence but not distracted by it – stay alert to the road situation in front of and around you
- Don’t deliberately slow down or repeatedly tap your brakes to “teach them a lesson”. This could cause the collision you’re trying to avoid. It might also trigger road rage in the tailgater, which can cause even more dangerous behaviour to develop
- Do allow the other driver to overtake as soon as it’s safe for you to pull aside. It may go against the grain to let them get away with it, but standing firm on a point of principle will be small consolation if you’re injured, or worse.
Cracking down on tailgaters
Advances in roadside camera technology could mean that police will soon be able to spot more tailgating drivers. A trial is already under way on a stretch of the M1 in Northamptonshire, using cameras that can detect vehicles travelling too close to each other.
Drivers will only receive warning letters from the police during the trial, rather than the standard fixed fine and three penalty points. In this way, they hope to encourage better road safety and driving habits by educating drivers to leave a safe distance between them and the vehicle in front.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cameras spotted 26,000 offenders in just the first two months of the trial, with 3,700 repeat offenders. Some drivers were caught tailgating as many as 12 times on the same 150m stretch of road.
If Highways England deem the trial to be a success, it’s likely that the new camera technology will eventually roll out across the whole country.
What’s a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front?
How much stopping distance would you need to avoid a collision if the vehicle in front of you suddenly slammed their brakes on? If you don’t remember the various speed/distance combinations from the Highway Code, use the two-second rule instead as a rough guide.
The two-second rule
The rule is that a driver should ideally stay at least two seconds behind any vehicle directly in front of their own. Pick a landmark (for example a line across the road, an overhead gantry or road sign) and adjust your speed so that your vehicle takes a minimum of two seconds (double that in poor weather conditions) to reach the same landmark after the car in front.