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What’s the Hurry? Tailgaters Need to Back Off

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5591761716_57cf063d96_zLike many cities in the nation, Denver has its share of aggressive drivers, sometimes known as tailgaters. Experts say that tailgating accounts for many of the 6.8 million car accidents that occur in the U.S. each year.

What is Tailgating?

Tailgating is defined as following another motorist at an unsafe distance of less than two seconds. Motorists who tailgate often share a few similar characteristics, including:

  • The penchant for running late
  • A general lack of patience
  • A high level of distraction
  • A sometimes rude demeanor
  • An aggressive personality
  • A general disregard of how dangerous tailgating can actually be

According to, a typical vehicle traveling 60 miles per hour needs between 120 and 140 feet to reach a full stop, while SUVs require an additional five to 10 feet.

What Makes Tailgating Dangerous?

When a motorist tailgates another vehicle, they do not give themselves enough distance in which they can safely stop their vehicle. Logically, the stopping distance of a small sedan is far less than that of a large diesel truck. The connection between the size of the vehicle and the required stopping distance is actually much more relevant when attempting to avoid an accident than a driver’s own skill, dexterity, and reflexes, should the motorist in front of him suddenly step on the brake.

Tailgaters often fail to realize the sequence of events that must occur for them to safely stop their vehicle and avoid an accident. Drivers must first perceive that a roadway hazard has occurred, and then their bodies must react to the message their brain is sending. As a result, a tailgater often collides with the vehicle in front of them before they even realize what has happened.

A Safe Following Distance

To calculate a safe distance, drivers should stay at least three seconds behind other motorists. A National Institute of Health (NIH) study found that teen drivers left nearly two-tenths of a second less following distance behind the car ahead than did general traffic. For those being followed by a tailgater, moving to another lane or maintaining the speed limit are both safe options.

When contemplating a safe following distance, the Colorado Drivers Handbook suggests using the three-second rule:

  • Watch the car ahead of you.
  • When it passes a reference point (a mile marker, sign, or telephone pole), then count “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one thousand three…”
  • If you pass the reference point before you finish counting, you are following too closely.

As you follow a car, you should typically stay at least two car-lengths from the vehicle in front of you and be able to see its back tires. When calculating a safe following distance, it is also important to consider weather and road conditions, the amount of traffic on the road, and the time of day. If the road is slippery, following distance should be greatly increased.

Following too closely is one of the most frequent causes of automobile crashes, since the ability to safely avoid a hazard is significantly reduced when tailgating. Give yourself (and the cars around you) more reaction time by increasing the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.

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Sally from Denver, Colorado

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