How to deal with tailgaters without losing your rag

Car driving too close

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

Tailgating is one of the most hated driving habits, right up there with middle lane hogging. But it’s not only annoying – it’s dangerous.

More than 100 people are being killed or seriously injured as a result of tailgating each year. It's also a factor in around one in eight casualties on motorways and A-roads according to government statistics.


What is tailgating?

Tailgating means driving too close to the vehicle in front of you and it’s dangerous because it increases the risk of collision.

If the vehicle in front of you brakes suddenly you might not be able to stop in time.

Even when tailgating is not deliberate - and simply the result of careless driving - other motorists can feel intimidated when a car is too close behind them.

The Highway Code states that all drivers should try and maintain a two-second gap with the car in front and that gap should be doubled at the least in wet weather.

If you’re driving in snow and ice, increase this to a 10-second gap.


Is tailgating illegal?

Yes, tailgating is a careless driving offence, and you could land yourself a fine of up to £100 and three points on your licence if you're caught by the police. 

If, however, your tailgating resulted in a serious accident you could get a driving ban or be sent to prison.

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

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Why do people tailgate? 

There are many reasons why people tailgate. 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.

Sometimes it might just be that a driver has ‘switched off’ and isn’t paying attention to the road. They could also be inexperienced and unaware of the danger they might be causing.


How to deal with tailgaters ? 

How you deal with a tailgater depends on whether they are of the ‘passive’ or ‘aggressive’ variety.

An aggressive tailgater 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’.

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 could be that they’re not really concentrating, and not thinking about leaving a safe braking distance.

And as different beasts, they require different approaches.


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 or think up tricks that make them mad or ‘teach them a lesson’.

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

Peter Rodger, 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."

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.


In short:

  • Let aggressive tailgaters pass safely

  • Don’t provoke an aggressive tailgater

  • Avoid road rage.


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."


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 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 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.

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


So, to summarise:

  • 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.