Tailgating is the most annoying habit among UK drivers, but analysis by Highways England (HE) has proven that it’s so much more than an annoyance – more than 100 people are killed or seriously injured every year on Britain’s motorways or major A roads; in fact, one-in-eight casualties are the direct result of tailgating.

Research has been carried out using dash cams, heart rate monitors and facial recognition systems that shows a typical response is anger, contempt, surprise and a sharp increase in heart rate, with drivers feeling ‘victimised’ or targeted.

Head of road safety at Highways England, Richard Leonard, states: “Tailgating distracts the motorist’s attention from the road, making them more likely to make a mistake”.

Space invader

Armed with this research, Highways England is launching a ‘Don’t Be A Space Invader’ campaign, supported with the backing of former Formula 1 champion, Nigel Mansell, who is also the President of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) RoadSmart, a road safety charity. Mansell himself describes the habit of tailgating as ‘deplorable’.

Worryingly, Highways England(HE) believes that in most cases of tailgating, the driver is simply unaware that they’re doing it (a passive tailgater), which when compared to another statistic they’ve released, gives you a clearer understanding of the size of the problem.

Earlier this year, HE surveyed just over 1,100 motorists, with 25% of them admitting to tailgating another driver in the last three months – and that’s the people that are aware they were doing it – the majority (according to HEs own findings) don’t – extrapolating that figure would tell us that the number of drivers guilty of tailgating must be over half.

The campaign

The Don’t Be a Space Invader campaign has been designed to try and quash tailgating completely, through raising awareness, giving advice and trying to get inconsiderate drivers to understand the implications and effects of tailgating. It will be shown throughout the country and companies such as National Express will be using the campaign on their long-distance coaches.

Raising awareness for the passive tailgater is all well and good, they are perhaps the most dangerous kind of tailgater, but it’s not going to stop the habitual bully from trying to push you along at an increased pace, and while powers do exist to tackle that problem, they rely on dwindling numbers of mobile traffic police – less than 10,000 tickets have been issued since the introduction of new legislation in August 2013, allowing the police to give on the spot fines.

‘Stay Safe, Stay Back’ is the strapline, and it’s hoped that it’s enough to prompt people in to thinking about their driving, rather than just semi-autonomously going about their daily commute.

Effects of tailgating

One insurance company has revealed that more than 25% of the claims between January and August of this year have involved a car being hit from the rear, and along with personal injury, there is the added increase to the insurance premium, loss of NCB and potential for legal proceedings.

Tailgating has also been linked to an increase in traffic jams thanks to the ripple effect of the brake lights, and should you be caught by the police, you’ll be liable for a £100 fine and potentially three penalty points.

But there are things that you can do, either as someone that’s inadvertently tailgating or as someone that is being tailgated:

  • Always try to keep to the two-second rule as a minimum – leaving a gap of at least two seconds between you and the car in front (double that when it’s wet)
  • Be aware of your surroundings – familiarity breeds contempt, so pay extra attention on your regular journeys
  • Never assume the driver in front is aware of you
  • Check your speed – are you driving too slowly or too fast?
  • Do not speed up to ‘lose’ a tailgater – there is a chance that they’ll just follow you
  • If it’s safe to do so, pull over and let the tailgater pass – don’t be tempted to police the roads yourself
  • Never brake test a tailgater
  • Check the official Highways England Space Invader site for further information

Tailgating has affected nearly 90% of motorists in one form or another, it seems to be happening on an epidemic proportion, and with modern life being lived at a pace, it’s unlikely to end soon. It seems that driving standards, in general, are on the decline, but with more campaigns like this, that could be turned around, and surely, we need to make driving a more pleasurable experience again.

What do you think of tailgaters? Should they face further legal action? Do you think this campaign will work? What else could Highways England do to make a difference? Let us know.

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