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The Rules of Dealing With a Tailgater

Dealing with a tailgater is not easy. Keep your cool and we'll all be safer on the road.

dealing with a tailgater

It’s frustrating when a slower driver keeps you from getting where you need to go, and it might be tempting to tailgate, but that’s never a good idea. To avoid being a tailgater all you need is an attitude adjustment and a lighter foot on the gas.

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The problem comes when the tailgater is the driver right behind you, so close to your bumper you cringe every time you brake. AAA Auto Insurance can help protect you if you are involved in an crash, but these tips from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety will help you deal with a tailgater and avoid getting into a crash in the first place.

Stay calm

The first thing you need to do when you look in your rearview mirror and see someone tailgating is to stay calm. That’s likely not your first reaction, but it’s the best one. Your first reaction is probably some combination of anger at the driver who is way too close. Your second is likely anxiety over the possibility he’ll hit you because there just isn’t enough distance between your cars.

Let those emotions pass and calm down. If you react with anger or fear and start driving erratically, you’ll only make the situation worse. Continue driving the speed limit, stay calm and obey traffic signals. The goal here is to be safe and avoid an accident, not to make things worse.

When you do need to brake, take it slow

Tailgating is dangerous because it reduces the space between cars to an unsafe distance. If you suddenly hit the brakes, the tailgater may not have enough time to react and slow down before hitting your car.

If you’re being tailgated, be extra cautious when you brake. Don’t slam on the brakes for no reason. Unless it’s an emergency braking situation, brake gently. You want the tailgater to see you slowing down in plenty of time for him or her to slow down, too.

If you do happen to get into a fender bender, remember AAA Roadside Assistance is available 24/7. 

dealing with a tailgater

Get safely out of the way

If you’re on a multi-lane road and it’s safe to move to another lane, then put on your turn signal and get out of the way. This is the easiest way to end tailgating. The driver behind you is being unsafe and if you can solve the whole problem simply by switching lanes, then do so as soon as possible. If there’s not another lane, consider turning into a parking lot to let the tailgater pass.

It might be tempting to get angry at the tailgater, especially if you’re driving the speed limit and another car is in front of you. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Tailgating is a dangerous and aggressive driving tactic. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than half of fatal crashes from 2003 to 2007 involved an aggressive action. It’s far easier to change lanes and let a tailgater pass than become one of those statistics.

Drive at a comfortable speed 

There’s the chance you’ll be tailgated on a road where there’s no safe way to let the tailgater pass. If the road is clear in front of you, should you speed up to make the tailgater happy? It all depends on your situation.

If you’re doing the speed limit, then don’t speed up. No matter how impatient the driver behind you is, the solution is not to break the law and go faster than posted speed limits. Even if you’re not doing the speed limit, that doesn’t mean you have to go faster. Driving at a speed where you’re confident and in control of your car is key. Do not be pressured into driving outside your comfort zone. That’s simply swapping one unsafe situation for another.

Avoid confrontation

You’ve been glaring at the driver in your rearview mirror for 10 minutes when there’s finally room for him to pass. Fine. Let him pass, but don’t give him dirty looks or make rude hand gestures to let him know exactly how you feel about his tailgating as he speeds away. Do not respond to an aggressive driver with more aggression.

It might seem harmless, but engaging an aggressive driver could escalate the situation into something even worse. Taunting a tailgater – including intentionally hitting the brakes hard while he’s still behind you to get him to back off – is not a good idea. The sooner the tailgater drives away, the better.

Aggressive driving tactics like tailgating are nerve-wracking. Keep calm, don’t overreact, and let the tailgater pass when possible so everyone safely arrives at their destinations.

Click here for more tips to avoid aggressive driving. 

Comments
  • John M.

    Get a description of the tailgater’s car and plate number, dial 911 to report it.
    I’ve done this successfully a number of times.

  • Steven K.

    I find that putting on your 4-way flashers alerts the tailgater that (s)he is too close and to back off. It works in many cases. DO NOT slowdown as that may cause an accident – maintain speed (YOUR speed).

  • Your Aaa R.

    The article should put more emphasis on the law in most states that requires that you keep right except to pass, regardless of the “speed limit”. Most incidents of tailgating that I see are on multi-lane highways or roads. Those who don’t observe this law actually create many of these dangerous situations. If there were enforcement of this law, there would be far fewer tragic situations from tailgating. On most roads, traffic regularly moves at speeds a bit higher that the “speed limit”, including law enforcement vehicles not responding to emergencies. So just keep to the right, except to pass.

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