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How to tackle tailgating

Tailgaters: everyone hates them but they are difficult to avoid. A survey by insurance comparison website revealed that 73% of drivers are tailgated every month, and 18% have had an accident or a near miss on account of being tailgated.

Two types of tailgating

‘Most tailgaters are aggressive drivers who actively want to intimidate the motorist in front of them,’ says Steve Horton, director of communications for Road Safety GB. ‘But there are also ‘passive tailgaters’ who just aren’t concentrating properly. Both create risk but the aggressive variety or ‘violator’ as we call them can be far more intimidating.’

Don’t be bullied

‘Don’t let the tailgater push you into driving faster than you feel is safe.’ advises Richard Gladman, head of driving standards at IAM RoadSmart. ‘Some drivers speed up thinking this will appease the tailgater, or that it will help to widen the gap between you. But generally they go faster themselves, stay just as close and you end up feeling even more out of control. Remind yourself that you are in charge of your car, not them.’ 

Let them pass

One tip for dealing with tailgaters is to let them overtake you as soon as possible. It might feel as if you’ve let them ‘win’ by doing this, but having a safe and relaxed journey is far more important than getting embroiled in petty power struggles. If you reach a clear stretch of road, keep your speed steady and allow the tailgater to overtake. Other strategies include pulling into the side of the road, turning off into a petrol station or even going all the way around a roundabout.

Keep driving normally

But don’t feel under pressure to let the tailgater past. ‘If you’re already driving safely, why would you want to change anything?’ says Tom Leggett, Crash Test Engineer at Thatcham Research, the motor insurers’ automotive research centre. ‘It’s the tailgater who needs to change their behaviour, not you. Only pull over if you feel it is absolutely necessary. You shouldn’t endanger yourself or other road users just to let a tailgater past. Stay calm and continue driving confidently.’

Plan and signal early

When a tailgating driver is really close you can end up in a situation where even pulling over or turning off at a junction can make you feel anxious as you’re uncertain whether they will spot your brake lights or indicator in time. ‘Always signal your intentions and start managing your speed well in advance,’ says Steve. ‘That will give both aggressive and passive tailgaters the chance to spot your manoeuvre and hopefully back off.’

Make space in front

You might not be able to control the tailgater behind you but you can control the space in front of you. ‘You should maintain a safe following distance between yourself and the car in front of at least two to three seconds,’ says Steve. ‘This creates a small ‘safety bubble’ in case you need to stop in an emergency.’ This space will give you room to slow at a more controlled rate if you have to and mean the tailgater is more likely to be able to stop without running into you.’

Don’t play power gamesSome motorists are so annoyed by tailgaters that they deliberately slow down to annoy them. You can even buy novelty bumper stickers declaring, ‘the closer you get, the slower I drive’. Other strategies include putting hazard lights on, tapping the brake lights unnecessarily, or shouting and gesticulating at the tailgater. But no matter how tempting it might be, don’t engage in any of these. They can be dangerous and trigger road rage in the tailgater, which will only make the situation worse. 

Don’t stare into your rear-view mirror

Being tailgated can feel very threatening and it’s easy to get drawn into constantly monitoring this angry stranger driving up your rear.
‘The temptation is to pay attention the tailgater’s intimidating behaviour,’ says Richard. ‘But it’s important not to let yourself become so preoccupied by them that you stop paying proper attention to what’s in front of you – such as a cyclist round the next bend. Check your mirror when necessary, but let your main focus be on your own driving and on the road ahead.’

By Maria McCarthy

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