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Tailgating: How it happens and what to do

Tailgating means driving too close to the vehicle in front of you. It’s dangerous because it increases the risk of collision. In fact, 1 in 6 (17%)* drivers have experienced damage to their car as a result of tailgaters. We explain how you can get out of a tailgating situation safely.

Person driving too close and tailgating

How you deal with a tailgater depends on whether they're:

  • Passive - no real intention of passing you and are happy for you to take the lead, but simply drive too close.
  • Aggressive - has the clear intention of passing you. They’re likely to actively drive up your rear in a fashion that says ‘get out of my way’.

How to deal with aggressive tailgaters

If you're being followed by an aggressive tailgater, you should:

  • Let them pass safely
  • Don’t provoke them
  • Avoid road rage

It can be tempting to hold them up, wind them up or think up tricks that make them mad or ‘teach them a lesson’.

Nearly a third (32%) told us that they hit their brakes when they experienced a tailgater. And nearly a quarter (22%) told us they increased their speed. Another 1 in 10 (10%) told us they even pulled a face in the mirror.

Peter Rodger, former head of driving advice at IAMRoadSmart, says:

"The thing is with these drivers, they’re already aggressive. So they’re not about to back off.

"Anything you do to try and make them back off will just make them more unpredictable."

Almost 2 in 5 (38%) of the drivers we asked said that the person tailgating them showed signs of road rage.

You could easily trigger this if you react to tailgaters, which is only going to make the situation worse.

How to deal with passive tailgaters

If you have a passive tailgater:

  • Don't speed up - you’ll only start tailgating the car in front of you
  • Don't brake sharply or flash your lights
  • Ease off the accelerator - if there’s a collision there should be less damage at slower speeds

Rodger says:

"Always leave plenty of space in front and avoid braking sharply. Flashing your brake lights isn’t going to help. It’s better to just ease off your accelerator."

This is because if you repeatedly brake, the flashing of your brake lights might start to lose impact.

It’s better to slow down gradually with your foot off the accelerator.

Then, if you do need to brake suddenly, the brake light should hopefully prompt the tailgater to take some evasive action.

This won’t entirely eliminate the risk of an accident. But at least there might be less damage at a slower speed.

And, in the event of a car insurance claim or the police getting involved, you’re less likely to be found at fault.

Yes, tailgating is a careless driving offence. Half (50%) of those we asked were aware of this, but 1 in 5 (20%) still admitted to tailgating at some point.

The Highway Code states that all drivers should try and maintain a 2 second gap with the car in front. You should aim to at least double that gap in wet weather.

If you’re driving in snow and ice, increase this to a 20-second gap.

If you’re caught tailgating by the police you could land yourself a fine of up to £100 and 3 points on your licence.

And if your tailgating resulted in a serious accident you could get a driving ban or be sent to prison.

Points on your licence increases your risk as a driver. This in turn could see your car insurance costs go up the following year.

In some cases it’s a bullying tactic - the tailgater might want to intimidate you and get you to move out of their way for example.

Or it could be that they’re in a hurry. Almost over 2 in 5 (45%) said that they tailgated because the car in front was driving too slowly - but this isn't an excuse.

In any case, tailgating is careless driving and can affect other motorists. Almost half (48%) of the motorists we asked told us tailgaters made them feel intimidated. Over half (52%) of drivers told us tailgaters made them feel angry.

Another reason could be that tailgaters don’t think that they could be prosecuted.

Nearly half (48%) of drivers told us that they don't think it's easy for police to catch tailgaters. And more than a third (34%) believe that it should be taken more seriously as an offence.

  • Dent to the bodywork
  • Scratches to the paintwork
  • Damage to the boot
  • Broken rear lights
  • A cracked licence plate
  • A broken rear window
  • Issues with alighnment

Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) people have paid up to £250 out of their own pocket to fix the damage caused by tailgaters.

More than 1 in 5 (22%) said they claimed up to £200 on their car insurance to fix the damage caused by tailgaters.

Unfortunately this could also push up your car insurance costs, even if the damage wasn't your fault.

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*Figures taken from omnibus research carried out by OnePoll on behalf of Confused.com. This was a nationally-representative poll of 2,000 UK adults. The research was conducted between 8 April and 13 April 2022.