Tailgating explained – what it is and how to spot it

Car travelling toward camer with motion blur, day.

Published 2 November 2022
Last updated 2 November 2022

When other vehicles get too close to your rear bumper they're tailgating. Find out how to deal with tailgaters, and how to stop yourself from tailgating, in this blog.

The Official DVSA Guide to Better DrivingHave you ever been out in your car and noticed someone driving too close to your rear bumper? Have you ever driven very close to the car in front?

If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these questions, then you probably know what tailgating is. For the benefit of everyone else, tailgating occurs when the gap between your car and the vehicle in front (if you are driving) or behind (if another driver is too close to you) is too small. It only takes the vehicle in front to brake hard and the chances are there’ll be a collision.

Nobody wants that kind of thing to happen – least of all the friends and families of those affected and the emergency responders arriving at the scene.

So what can you do about it and how should you react it if happens to you?

What the Highway Code Says…

First of all, let’s grab a bit of extra background. Rule 126 of The Highway Code says:

‘Tailgating is dangerous, intimidating and can cause collisions, especially when driving at speed. Keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front gives you time to react and stop if necessary. Dangerous and careless driving offences, such as tailgating, are enforced by the police.’

So if you think that tailgating will earn you a slap over the wrists and nothing more, think again. The Police can take action if they think you’re driving without due care and attention. So stay safe, stay back and give yourself time to respond to the vehicle in front.

How to stop tailgating 

Driving too close to the vehicle in front can happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’re stressed and angry. Maybe you’re in “autopilot” and your attention is elsewhere. Or maybe you’re impatient and in a hurry. Whichever one it is, each time you tailgate you put yourself and other road users in danger.

Here are a few strategies to help you keep your distance.

  • Know your typical overall stopping distances. These change depending on how fast you’re going. For example a typical overall stopping distance (thinking time + braking time) for a car travelling at 30mph would be 23 metres – that’s about six car lengths. If you can’t stop within this distance, you could find yourself in trouble. Remember: stopping distances double in wet conditions, so stay alert and allow sufficient space between your car and the vehicle in front
  • You could use the two second rule to judge a safe following distance on higher speed roads. Choose an obvious stationary point ahead, such as a bridge, a tree or a road sign. When the vehicle ahead passes the object, say to yourself, ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.’ If you reach the object before you finish saying it, you’re too close and need to drop back. This rule works in good dry conditions. In wet conditions you should at least double the gap and increase it by up to 10 times on icy roads
  • If you’re feeling stressed, angry or tired, don’t be tempted to take it out on other drivers. Either stay at home until you feel better or stop for a while to relax and refocus before continuing your journey. Being courteous on the road costs nothing and helps everyone make safer journeys
  • Many modern cars have collision warning systems that will alert drivers if they get too close to the car in front. Use them, but don’t rely on them. It’s always better to drive within the rules than drive to the limits of the technology in your car.

How to react if someone is tailgating you

  • It’s vital that you stay calm. If you get angry it could take your attention away from the road
  • Slow down by easing off the accelerator very gradually and increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front. This will give you more time to react if something ahead causes you to slow down or stop
  • If you need to find a safe place to stop then don’t be afraid to
  • Don’t increase your speed – it might push you over the speed limit and leave you unable to stop if you need to
  • If the driver behind is acting aggressively, and it’s safe to do so, pull over and let them pass. Make sure you indicate in good time so the vehicle behind – and other road users – know what you’re doing.

The end of the tale...or is it?

We hope you found these tips useful, but if you want to know more about safe driving, visit the Safe Driving for Life advice section or whizz on over to our shop. There’s something for everyone there including advice for learner drivers as well as Driving – the essential skills, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s very own driving manual.

Until next time...

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