Being followed too closely by another vehicle is intimidating, dangerous and against the law. Whether or not it’s intentional, coping requires a cool head and some practical strategies to get out of the situation.

If you’re a competent driver you’ll be familiar with the three-second rule that ensures a safe following distance. You can test it by while you’re driving by picking a stationary object such as a road sign and counting two seconds as the car in front passes it. If you reach that point before you’ve finished counting, you’re probably too close (in wet conditions four seconds is more appropriate because it takes longer to stop).

If a driver doesn’t have enough time to brake, the risk of a rear-end crash is significant. But it’s a risk that seems to be increasing on the roads and tailgating is one of the most common and complained-about frustrations in city driving. It’s behaviour that seems to be on the rise as drivers become increasingly impatient with heavy traffic and constant interruptions to the flow of traffic.

While a driver who rear-ends another vehicle is usually always at fault legally, if someone crashes into the back of you, you still face the risk of injury, inconvenience and cost.

Sometimes tailgating can be unintentional, with a distracted driver accidently creeping closer and closer as their mind wanders, at other times it’s a deliberate act of intimidation.

Either way it’s dangerous and it can be tempting to meet impatience with impatience, but that never, ever works on the road. Slowing down or flashing your brake lights to prove you’re on to them is likely to aggravate the situation and increase the chances of a crash. That’s allowing driving to become about ego and emotions, rather than staying safe.

A deliberate tailgater is unlikely to get bored and give up. Instead, it’s up to you to diffuse the situation. If you’re on a motorway, change lanes and let them pass, avoiding eye contact as they go by. If you’re not the motorway and know the area you are travelling in, turn off and alter your route slightly.

If you have a passenger with you, you can ask them to take down their number plate and report the incident to the police.

Takeaway tips

  • Tailgating is travelling too close to the car in front
  • It dramatically increases the chance of a rear-end crash
  • Avoid engaging with a car that is tailgating and escalating the situation into road range.
  • Keep calm and let them pass