You can tell when someone’s driving too close to you, but how do you know if you’re too close to the driver in front of you?
The threshold of discomfort where tailgating becomes uncomfortable varies from person to person, but the law doesn’t. If a vehicle is following another too closely and causes an accident, they’re considered negligent in the eyes of the law, and they could be held liable for the damage caused to innocent parties.
“Too close” isn’t a static distance, though. It varies based on weather conditions, your vehicle, and how attentive the driver is, among many other factors. Here are a few words of advice that can help you spot tailgating and keep yourself safe on the road.
What Factors Affect How Close You Should Drive to the Vehicle in Front of You?
There’s no exact distance one car should be from another on the road. Instead, there’s a range drivers should aim to stay within.
An attentive driver needs an average of 1.5 seconds to respond to a hazard. Here are a few things that can affect that reaction time.
- Weather: Slippery roads and poor visibility delay reaction time and require a longer distance between you and the car in front of you
- The Capability of Your Vehicle: Some cars take longer to stop than others, depending on weight, age, and maintenance.
- Speed: A vehicle traveling 55 mph requires at least 419 feet. Drivers traveling at faster speeds should increase following distance to give themselves adequate time to respond to hazards.
- Attention: Quickly glancing at your phone or getting lost in your thoughts takes your eyes off the road, no matter how briefly. If you find yourself not feeling alert behind the wheel, add some space between you and the vehicle ahead of you until you’re able to pull off the road.
How Do I Know if I Was Tailgating?
Most drivers who are issued traffic violations for tailgating are unaware they are breaking the law because a “safe” distance varies so frequently. The ebb and flow of traffic doesn’t allow for a standard following distance, so drivers must use their best judgment at all times.
Plan ahead, stay alert, and travel at a safe speed to allow for the utmost mobility. If you find you're driving too close to another driver, safely slow down to an acceptable distance.
How to Measure Following Distance
Counting from when the back bumper of the car in front of you passes a landmark, like a street sign, lamp post, or fire hydrant. On the highway, you can use mile markers.
- Under 30 mph: Drivers should stay two to three seconds behind the vehicle in front of them when traveling under 30 mph, although four seconds is recommended if possible.
- Above 30 mph: At higher speeds, drivers should leave 8 seconds behind the vehicle they’re following.
Drivers also use the two-second rule. This is done by adding one vehicle length for every 5 miles per hour you’re traveling. At 50 mph, drivers should travel 9 seconds behind the vehicle in front of them to allow for the utmost reaction time.
How to Keep Yourself Safe From a Tailgating Driver
It’s essential to stay calm if you notice a vehicle traveling too closely. You shouldn’t get angry or make sudden moves because, unfortunately, their following distance is increasing your risk of an accident. Here’s what you should do:
- Safely put distance between you and the driver
- Change lanes (if possible)
- Maintain a steady speed
- Keep a safe following distance from the car ahead of you.
It’s easy to get frustrated or scared when someone’s driving aggressively on the road, but it’s much safer to keep your composure. Even then, you may still find yourself in an accident.
If a tailgating driver caused your accident, you should contact a legal expert and explore your legal options. At Morgan and Morgan, you can do so for no upfront costs.
Complete a free, no-risk case evaluation to get started.