If you’ve ever been in a rush to get to work, school, or an important meeting, you know how tempting it can be to drive close to the car in front of you. Tailgating rarely provides the desired outcome, though.
Not sure what tailgating is? Whether you’re a new driver or already have decades of experience behind the wheel, you’ve probably experienced it even if you don’t know the name. Tailgating is when a driver drives much too close to the car in front of them. You might be most likely to encounter a tailgating driver during rush hour, which tends to peak between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. in Gulfport, although it can happen at any time of day.
It can be terrifying to look in your rearview mirror and not even be able to see the headlights of the vehicle behind you. That sinking feeling you might get in your stomach when the car behind you is following too closely is not misplaced either—as an experienced car accident attorney, Corban Gunn, Attorney at Law, knows. He’s handled plenty of cases like this and knows what makes tailgating so dangerous.
Being Tailgated Is Stressful
You’ll encounter many stressful situations on the road. However, one study found that being tailgated is among the most stressful experiences you can have while driving. There are already so many potential stressors on the road, including drunk drivers, poorly maintained roads, and inattentive pedestrians. Adding in another is a recipe for disaster.
Stress can have a strange effect on your body. When you’re in a stressful situation—like being tailgated by another driver—the hypothalamus in your brain sends out stress hormones that trigger your body’s fight or flight response. You’ll notice that your:
- Heart starts racing
- Breathing quickens
- Muscles tense and get ready for action
These immediate responses can make it much harder to fully focus on driving. Instead of paying attention to the road in front of you, you might be more focused on watching the other driver in your rearview mirror. This type of distracting behavior can cause an accident. Here’s what you should do if you’re being followed too closely by another driver:
- Change lanes. If you are on a multi-lane road and it is safe to do so, change lanes to allow the tailgating driver to pass. Avoid cutting off other drivers as you change lanes.
- Maintain a consistent speed. You might be tempted to speed up to try to get the tailgating driver to back off or slow down to teach them a lesson. Avoid both of these approaches. Keep traveling at a safe, consistent speed and allow the other driver to pass you when they get the opportunity. Constantly changing speeds is more likely to cause an accident when tailgating is involved.
- No brake checking. If you need to slow down, do so slowly by easing your foot off the gas pedal or applying gradual pressure to the brake. Slamming on your brakes—also called brake checking—to teach the driver behind you a lesson is more likely to cause an accident or a road rage incident.
Remember that it is never your job to police other drivers’ behaviors. If you think you are driving at a reasonable speed but the car behind you wants to go faster, move over and allow them to pass you by.
Why Tailgating Is Dangerous
Humans are not machines, which means that we need time to perceive a threat and process it before we can react. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—NHTSA—the average driver takes about ¾ of a second to perceive a threat, such as an obstacle in the road or a leading car unexpectedly braking.
On top of the time it takes to notice a threat, most drivers take another ¾ of a second to decide how to react. That’s a total of 1.5 seconds of travel time before a driver actually does something like apply the brakes. When traveling at 55 mph, you travel 121 feet over the course of 1.5 seconds. If you then apply the brakes, you won’t come to a complete stop until you’ve traveled a total of 265 feet.
Remember, this is only in ideal weather conditions. Your stopping distance will be much longer if it’s raining, or if there is debris on the road.
Drivers who are tailgating are physically incapable of reacting in time to something like the car in front of them suddenly braking. In the event that the leading car has to suddenly stop, a rear-end collision is almost inevitable.
The 3-Second Rule
It is not enough to just avoid tailgating, though. Maintaining a safe driving distance between vehicles is essential to lowering your chances of causing an accident.
The 3-second rule is a handy trick for increasing the distance between you and other vehicles. How do you know if you’re sticking to the 3-second rule? It’s pretty easy:
- Pick a stationary item on the side of the road, like a streetlight or traffic sign.
- Watch the car in front of you. When its rear bumper passes the object you picked, start counting.
- At least three seconds should pass before your front bumper reaches the same object.
- If it took you less than three seconds to reach the object, slow down to increase your distance.
The 3-second rule does have limitations, though. It does not take into account adverse driving conditions, such as rain or slick roadways. If you’re driving in anything other than ideal driving conditions with clear visibility and dry roadways, increase the distance between vehicles.
Moving Forward After a Tailgating Accident
Tailgating can play a role in many different types of accidents, but it is most commonly associated with rear-end collisions. If a tailgating driver caused your rear-end collision, you may be dealing with serious injuries like severe whiplash, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, or more.
While your situation might feel helpless, you are not alone. At Corban Gunn, Attorney at Law, we pride ourselves on the expert representation we provide to injury victims in Gulfport. When you contact us to schedule a consultation, you can speak with a knowledgeable car accident attorney about your options for recovering the compensation you deserve.