The Rules of Dealing With a Tailgater

Keep your cool with a tailgater 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.

The problem comes when someone is riding your bumper so close you cringe every time you brake. AAA can protect you with car insurance if you are involved in a crash, but these tips from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety will help you avoid and safely deal with tailgaters before the situation escalates.

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 initial response is probably some combination of anger at the driver who is way too close and anxiety over the possibility they’ll hit you because there just isn’t enough distance between your cars. Let those emotions pass. If you react with anger or fear and start driving erratically, you’ll only make the situation worse. Continue driving the speed limit, stay cool and obey traffic signals.

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When You 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 – and certainly not to be spiteful . Unless it’s an emergency braking situation, brake gently. You want the tailgater to see you slowing down and have enough time to slow down as well.

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. 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. 

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95 Thoughts on “The Rules of Dealing With a Tailgater

  1. Most people behind the wheel have poor judgement when it comes to speed and distances. A car traveling 40mph takes 139 feet to stop almost half a football field. Some of the most dangerous streets in NJ are the higher speed suburban roads posted 35 to 40mph where cars regularly enter traffic from side streets. Drivers are often indecisive about a vehicle’s on coming speed and distance. They hesitate and then pull out when you’re almost on top of them. Meanwhile those that tailgate (and think they’re on a highway) are practically in your backseat after you brake for cars they can’t see. I often pull over to the side of the road and let them pass. I think a few feel sheepish when they see me behind them.

  2. I live in southwestern Connecticut, USA, and here the PSL(Posted Speed Limit) is considered by most drivers as, at best, the MINIMUM speed one should be driving, whether on a winding backroad, a four-lane boulevard, or a six-lane expressway.

    IE: On a local street with parking allowed alternately on one side and then on the other, PSL is 30MPH(45KPH), yet actual speeds I witness are from 35-45mph.

    On Interstate 95, PSL 55mph, drivers do 60 in the right hand lane, 65-70 in the middle, and 75-80 in the left! Any state cruisers I see simply go with the flow, regardless of which lane they are in(unless they see someone recklessly weaving betw. lanes).

    My current practice is: Up to no more than 5mph faster than PSL anywhere I’m driving, and right hand lane on expressways or parkways unless passing.

    And I emphasize, UP TO. So on a local street zoned for 25mph, I might go anywhere from 27-29mph. 58-60mph on a highway zoned for 55, 67-69 on a highway where the PSL is 65mph.

    I feel like I arrive at my destination, be it the grocery market, work, or Six Flags, more relaxed and ready to make the most of it.

    The only issue with this practice is: LOTS of brown-nosers! Which I do nothing about but ignore. As long as I’m all the way over to the right on highways, I’m ok.

  3. As a Law Enforcement Officer it is the law that slower moving vehicles in the left lane on a Hwy, Pkwy, Expressway, Interstate to move over for vehicles going faster than them. We can and do give tickets for people driving slow in the left lane. The left lane purpose is for faster moving vehicles and passing, which most drivers dont know or obey.

  4. If this happens during the day I simply put on my head lights and they think it’s my break lights and they drop back.

  5. I’ve called in a few ‘gaters’ , and told 911 they might be a DWAI or DWI driver . . . they have to respond to that . . . make sure you can give the 911 operator a description of the vehicle and if possible a plate number as well as the road you’re on and which way you’re traveling . however , getting out of the way of a ‘gater’ is still the best solution . they’re probably an accident waiting to happen .

  6. When diving a small car, if a larger car or truck is too close behind, it is often impossible to see if a lane change is possible. There just isn’t any way to see if the other lane(s) are clear and available! Keep your distance, no matter what! The person ahead of you may want to get out of your way, but can’t because they can’t see traffic in the other lanes.

  7. If you is going well below the already usually too low speed limit or dawdling in the left lane despite favorable weather and traffic perhaps you are the problem, not that such excuses unsafe tailgating or aggressive behavior. Differences in speed more than speed itself is often a cause of accidents. Take a look in your rearview mirror. If there is a line of cars stacking up behind you perhaps you need to pull into the right lane or let them pass. Very rude for one unskilled, inattentive or disinterested person to inconvenience everyone else. The world does not revolve around you anymore than it does me.

  8. I am from Massachusetts. The worst drivers are the same everywhere. Impatient and act as if their mission is more important that someone else’s to arrive where they are going the others be darned. If you are driving in the passing lane of a highway and another driver comes up from behind you and wants to get by, just put on your blinker and get out of the way. Pretend it’s a pregnant woman in labor or her husband driving to the hospital. Even if it’s not there’s no point in getting into a road rage event for the idiot who is driving like a lunatic…If it’s someone in front of you on a single lane, pretend it’s your grandmother. Would you tailgate your grandmother ? No…If you are elderly do not drive below the speed limit. It’s just not safe for a variety of reasons. Life is short and being kind to others sems to vanish when you are behind the wheel.

  9. I’m sensing road rage on this board ???? relax boys and girls and that’s what we need to do on the road too. It all comes down to respect which is not as common as it used to be. More selfish drivers on the road than ever. I personally use the middle and right lanes on the highway regularly and only when it’s wide open I use the left lane. That make me feel safe but still on occasion I still deal with TGs. Use your hazard lights if needed and flip down you rear view mirror to lessen the view of the car behind you. You’ll be amazed how much more relaxed you I’ll feel

  10. Frequently drivers of other vehicles tailgate me specifically because I drive a subcompact car. They ride right on my bumper, even when I’m at the speed limit or slightly over and when there are lanes to my left where they have good opportunities to pass. I don’t monopolize the left-hand lanes and am happy to let those who wish to go faster do so. I don’t have this trouble when driving the SUV my husband and I have. I either tap the brakes to light up my rear brake lights or I’ll put on my four-way flashers. Sometimes they get the message and back off, but just as often they don’t. Those who are looking just to aggravate other drivers will actually follow me into the far-right lane and continue to ride my bumper, just to harass me. Are they trying to intimidate me because they’re in a bigger car? I refuse to be intimidated, because I know that they know if they run into me, their car won’t be so pretty anymore and they’d have to pay for my damages as well as theirs. I do wish they’d let me be, though. They think I’m the stupid one, but they are relying on the fact that MY safe driving reduces the chances of them getting into an accident.

  11. I just relocated to Georgia from Boston and I swear I have never seen such reckless behavior on the roads tail gating speeding lane changing and now a rise on people getting in front of 18 wheelers and going slow or abruptly stopping to get a check. Something has to be done on a legal level this is outrageous

    1. East Coast is really bad. Have a strategy to feel safe out there and don’t try to control your surroundings. Find ways to reduce your stress.

  12. Regarding tailgating … in 1963, I was driving down a long hill in West Virginia behind a car that was driving slower than I. I honked a few times and he didn’t speed up or move aside. When I got close to his rear bumper I saw a sticker on it that said: I may be slow, but I’m ahead of you. Not the message you may be looking for —but maybe I was going too fast.

  13. Many people are not aware of this, however it is under normal circumstances to drive below 15 miles under the speed limit on main roads (highways excluded) . This is condidered dangerous and can lead to accidents. Police will pull you over and ticket you for this behavior. I know multiple people who have been ticketed for this reason.

  14. Part of the problem is that with folks clogging the left lane, the entire system gets inverted. That is, people who want to pass a left lane clogger slide over to the center or even the right lane to pass. I’ve often been tailgated in the right lane when moving close to the speed limit because I’m in the way of those passers.

  15. A number of times I turn on my right signal and move to the shoulder and let them by. This happens with cars & trucks.

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