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How to deal with tailgaters without losing your rag


Everyone has an opinion on how to treat tailgaters. But what’s the correct way to deal with them safely?

Angry driver

According to research by, more than an eighth (13%) of drivers have had an accident or near miss as a result of tailgating. 

This prevalence of inconsiderate driving can’t be good for motorists’ morale.

But tailgating is not only annoying, it can be highly dangerous too.

With this in mind, we look at how to deal with tailgaters safely and sensibly.

Passive or aggressive tailgater?

How you shake a tailgater depends on whether he or she is of the "passive" or "aggressive" variety.

An aggressive tailgater has the clear intention of passing you. They will actively drive up your rear in a fashion that says "Get out of my way".

A passive tailgater is a different beast entirely. Normally they have no real intention of passing you and instead are quite happy for you to take the lead, but simply drive too close.

This is most likely an unconscious choice. It’s more that they’re not really concentrating, and not thinking about leaving a safe braking distance.

And as different beasts, they require different approaches.

Read more: Motorway driving: How to stay safe

motorway driving

How to deal with aggressive tailgaters

This one’s simple: as soon as you can, and it’s safe to do so, let them pass. That’s it.

Not everyone will agree, and aggressive tailgaters clearly press a lot of motorists’ buttons.

It can be tempting to hold them up, wind them up, think up tricks that will make them mad.

But it’s just not worth it. No-one benefits and there’s nothing to be gained by doing so. 

'They're not about to back off'

Peter Rodger, head of driving standards at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, 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."

So not only is there nothing to be gained by getting your own back on tailgaters, but you’re potentially creating an extra problem.

You could easily trigger road rage, which is only going to make the situation worse.

If you’re just further enraging the driver behind, it’s difficult to see how anyone’s going to win. Don’t feed the trolls.

UK motorway traffic

How to deal with passive tailgaters

Dealing with passive tailgaters requires a bit more thought.

"Always leave plenty of space in front," says Rodger.

As much as it may be tempting to try and put some space between you and the car behind, you don’t want to create the same situation for the car in front.

If the car in front were then to suddenly brake you’ll end up the unwitting filling in a sandwich.

Rodger adds: "Avoid braking sharply. Flashing your brake lights isn’t going to help. It’s better to just ease off your accelerator."

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Better to slow down gradually

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

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

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 getting rear-ended but at least there’ll be less damage at a slower speed.

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

"And there’s one last tip," says Rodger. "Don’t be a tailgater yourself." After all, only a fool breaks the two-second rule.

First published on the 2nd of November 2012


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