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Tailgating in busy traffic: What exactly is the point?

Published March 11, 2013
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“Not so close, I hardly know you” is a polite bumper sticker I’ve seen.

There’s also a big rig mud flap with Yosemite Sam in old west garb holding two pistols and saying “back off.”

Either way, the message is simple: “please don’t tailgate.”

The truth of the matter is that if two vehicles are moving at the same speed in traffic, they’ll both travel the same distance in the same amount of time whether the back car is tailgating the front driver’s bumper, or exercises common sense and is a much safer following distance away.

More: What – if anything – goes through a tailgater’s mind?

More: A better ‘do not tailgate’ message

Some drivers tailgate to signal their displeasure with “left lane bandits” blocking the passing lane, but what’s the reasoning when it’s done in busy traffic?

Basically, what’s the point when no one can go anywhere faster regardless of the lane they, or you, are in?

When you combine tailgating and slippery road conditions, then it’s a recipe for disaster.

On a recent slip-sliding snowy day, I had to take my dad to hospital (otherwise I wouldn’t have been out). Despite the extremely slippery conditions, many cars were seen tailgating. I presume this was done out of habit as many were following so closely that it would be hard to stop in time even under ideal road conditions.

Not surprisingly, we drove past several rear-end collisions at intersections – including one involving a bumper-hugging car that I’d just gotten away from.

Years ago, a motorist tailgated me down a steep hill despite the road being covered in freezing rain. When the rail crossing gate activated at the bottom of the hill forcing me to stop, I was almost certain my car would be rear-ended.

The tailgater wound up sideways a bit as he struggled to halt in time. He didn’t quite make it, and our bumpers made contact, but no damage was done.

Apparently, this incident taught him nothing about the need to increase following distance in bad weather.

After the train had passed, he was still on my tail as we drove away on the single lane road.

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