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How to Make Sure You Aren't Tailgating

John MacNab was a professional driving instructor (Approved Driving Instructor, ADI).

The Problem With Tailgating

We’ve all been bombarded with stats about tailgating, from the two-second rule to the "30 feet behind at 30 mph; 30 yards behind at 60 mph." (Personally, I only apply the two-second rule to chips I drop on the floor. If they are really tasty, the 10-second rule.)

The 30 feet/30 yards mantra sounds good, but it isn’t much use if you can’t visualize distances. According to Wiki-Answers, the average American car is approximately 15 feet long (13.51 feet for cars and 16.40 for SUVs and trucks), so the gap between you and the vehicle in front should never, ever be less than two car lengths.

How Does This Affect Me?

The thing about tailgating stats is that we all ignore them because they don’t affect us; they affect the fool behind us who is always filling up our rear-view mirrors.

But what if they do affect us? What if we are all latent tailgaters? Before you, the best driver in the northern hemisphere, get all defensive about this suggestion, consider this.

Most of us drive familiar roads to familiar destinations. Only about 1% of our brains are utilized in the act of driving. The other 99% of our brains are focused on ‘real’ problems like how to pay this month’s bills, or how on earth you can have it off with your next-door neighbor without your partner finding out. Driving is an irritating chore, and we are quite content to let the driver in front do the thinking for us, even if it means switching off another 0.5% of our brains – the perfect breeding ground for tailgaters.

Are You Guilty of Tailgating?

If this sounds like your normal driving day, don’t panic. Here are two easy tests to diagnose budding tailgater-itis.

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  1. The next time you are in a convoy of cars that have just been unleashed from a red traffic light, ask yourself if you can see the car in front of the car in front of you? If you can only see the trunk of the car in front, you are too darned close.
  2. Another question to ask yourself at the same time is, ‘why do I brake so often when following other cars? ’ If you are doing the continual brake/gas/brake shuffle, you are too darned close.

If you are too close, fall back slightly—oh, say, 13.51 feet—and have another look. OK? Now watch the brake lights of the car in front going on and off like Christmas decorations—that was you only seconds earlier. Now can you see the car in front of the car in front?

Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

Sitting that extra car length back isn’t going to affect your journey time by more than seconds, but almost immediately you will feel a loosening of taut muscles. It will also lower your blood pressure and save wear and tear on your brakes and nerves—perhaps even save your life. Who knows, you might even begin to like driving again.

Now that you have removed yourself from the melee, and become more of an observer, do some more observing. Can you see the car in front of the car in front of the car in front? If you are driving an SUV or a truck, this will be simple, but if you are driving a coupe you may have to work at it; perhaps by edging left or right to see past the cars blocking your view. You may even have to fall back slightly further, but it will be worth it.

If you can see a further forward car indicating or braking it gives you that extra 2-3 seconds to act. The difference is that if you were sitting where you normally sit (up his muffler), you wouldn’t have time to act; you would only have time to react.

Safe Driving!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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