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81% of tailgating drivers escape penalties

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Tailgating means driving too close to the vehicle in front of you. It’s dangerous because it increases the risk of collision. In fact, more than 1 in 20 (6%)* have had an accident because of tailgating. We explain how you can get out of a tailgating situation safely.

Person driving too close and tailgating

*We conducted a nationally-representative survey of 2,000 UK adults via omnibus research experts OnePoll. The survey ran between 19 and 25 September 2023 and looked at drivers' attitudes towards tailgating. All figures presented here are from this research.

Yes, tailgating is a careless driving offence. Just under half (47%) of those we asked were aware of this, but over 1 in 10 (11%) 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. On some stretches of motorway, this is indicated by 2 chevrons. 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 get a fine of up to £100 and 3 points on your licence.

And if your tailgating results 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. Because of this, your car insurance costs are likely to go up the following year.

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

Or it could be that they’re in a hurry. Over half (51%) said that they tailgated because the car in front was driving too slowly. Over 1 in 10 (11%) said they tailgated because they were in a rush. And 1 in 15 (7%) didn’t realise they were tailgating. None of these are excuses for tailgating though.

Tailgating is careless driving and can affect other motorists. Nearly half (47%) of the motorists we asked told us tailgaters made them feel intimidated. Another half (49%) told us tailgaters made them feel angry.

Tailgaters might not think that they could be prosecuted, so they might be more likely to do it.

Our audience research supports this. Out of the drivers that admitted to tailgating, 4 in 5 (81%) weren't caught by the police.

Nearly half (45%) said that tailgating should be taken more seriously as an offence. And almost 2 in 5 (37%) told us that they don’t think it's easy for police to catch tailgaters.

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

  • Aggressive - have 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’.
  • Passive - no real intention of passing you and are happy for you to take the lead, but simply drive too close.

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 or think up tricks that make them mad. In fact, over 1 in 5 (22%) told us they decided to hold up a tailgater to ‘teach them a lesson’.

Nearly a third (29%) told us that they hit their brakes when they experienced a tailgater. Over 1 in 20 (6%) told us they even pulled a face in the mirror.

But not many drivers we surveyed took the proper action. A quarter (25%) told us they changed lanes. And less than 1 in 6 (16%) pulled over to let them pass.

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."

Nearly half (46%) 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, but this 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.

Here’s the most common damage people have experienced because of a tailgater hitting their car:

Most common damage to a car because of tailgating Percentage
Damage to boot
Broken rear lights
Dent to bodywork
Scratches to paintwork
Cracked licence plate
Issues with alignment
Broken rear window

Around 1 in 7 (14% )drivers paid up to £150 out of their own pocket to fix the damage caused by tailgaters. And over 1 in 7 (15%) said they claimed up to £300 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.

What our car insurance expert says

“It’s worrying to see that tailgating is still happening on UK roads. It’s also concerning that drivers know it’s an offence, but they still do it.

“If you’re hit by a tailgater, make sure you follow our steps on what to do after a car accident.

“When it's safe, take photos and witness information so you have plenty of evidence when you make a claim.

“Describe the tailgating behaviour that caused the accident to your insurer. If you’ve followed the road safety rules your insurer should support your claim.”

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