But it’s not only annoying. Research shows that it’s also stressful and dangerous.
More than a quarter of motorists do it and are ‘accidents waiting to happen’.
The Highway Code says drivers should allow at least a two second gap between themselves and the vehicle in front on roads carrying fast traffic. If the weather is poor, the ‘two second rule’ needs to be doubled. But the research suggests such a concept is alien to a large number of motorists.
According to Brian Gregory from the Association of British Drivers, there are two main categories of tailgaters. The first is the absent-minded motorist.
‘These are drivers who have ‘switched out’ and are blindly following the vehicle in front, often travelling too close without realising it,’ Gregory says
. ‘They tailgate without reason and are unlikely to notice what is happening around them. When something goes wrong they just plough into the back of the preceding vehicle.’
The second type of tailgater is the motorist who is trying to pass the car in front.
‘This is a far more complex issue,’ Gregory says. ‘There is no excuse for tailgating and those doing it dangerously deserve to be prosecuted. However, we must also look at the reasons why they do it.
‘There is an unfortunate culture on UK roads where drivers will not move over unless they are tailgated. Many are happy to travel for miles in the middle and outside lanes holding up queues of traffic.
‘If cars stay a safe distance behind and patiently wait, they know that the driver will never pull over so they move closer to show they wish to pass. Education and enforcement is needed therefore, not only for the tailgater but also for the tailgated.’
The problem of tailgating turns 26% of motorists into ‘accidents waiting to happen’, according to research carried out by the RAC Foundation, Institute of Advanced Motorists, the Freight Transport Association and BSM Driving Schools.
The survey covered more than 22,000 motorists and highlighted tailgating as the number one driver error.
Research by the Highways Agency found that tailgating contributed 29% of all injury accidents on the UK’s motorways.
The Highways Agency believes tailgating – or ‘close following’ – is a major contributor to crashes and is researching the problem with a view to tackling poor driver behaviour.
It is developing a high-tech solution to tailgaters. Part of the agency’s Close Following project will be trials of a new camera that can spot motorists travelling too close to the car in front.
The data collected will be analysed by the Transport Research Laboratory to see if the technology works effectively.
If it does, motorists could then start to see the cameras linked to Variable Message Signal (VMS) boards, warning them to increase the gap between themselves and the car in front.
The technology could, if proven reliable, be linked to a system that would fine drivers for tailgating in a similar way to speed cameras. However, there are no current plans for that to happen.
The cameras will be trialled on the A34, north of the M4 towards Abingdon, at the end of the autumn.
Reminding your drivers of the dangers of tailgating can’t do any harm.
‘Drivers should be aware of the distance between themselves and the vehicles in front,’ warns Gary Crockford, senior policy manager at the Highways Agency.
‘Ensure that you have that two second gap because an awful lot of accidents tend to be shunts that suggest drivers are travelling fast and close together, not giving themselves a chance to react.’
Peter Rodger, chief examiner at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, says drivers should not rely on chevrons painted on the road, cameras or any other kind of indicator.
‘It’s obvious that too many drivers simply forget their speed, regardless of the conditions on the motorway or what is in the lane ahead of them,’ he says.
‘They then follow other vehicles as if they were travelling much more slowly. So they are ignoring the two second rule.
‘Regardless of what indicators are available on the motorway, every driver should make it standard practice to leave a good gap between their vehicle and the one in front, adjusting their following distance regularly to take into account weather and traffic conditions.’