Keeping a safe following distance is crucial to defensive driving. Learning how to avoid tailgating and maneuver safely when others do can help avoid the common crashes that happen when cars follow too closely — sometimes at high speeds.

Don’t be a tailgater

The defensive driver needs to keep a safe interval between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead. The “timed interval” theory, can help the driver make a more accurate judgment of what that means at different speeds, in fair weather and foul.

The timed interval

The “timed interval” can be used at any speed. It is based on the distance a vehicle will travel in a given period of time. A three-second interval should allow an adequate stopping distance for passenger cars and two-axle trucks with normal driving conditions.

The “timed interval” should be increased to four seconds or more for larger axle combinations. Add an extra second of following distance for any unsafe conditions as you drive (poor road conditions, low light, bad weather, blocked visibility ahead due to a large vehicle, etc.). Because conditions may vary so much, these timed intervals should only be used to indicate one thing, “that you are following too closely.”

The countdown plan operates this way:

  1. Focus on the vehicle ahead as it reaches a fixed object such as a tree or traffic marker alongside the road.
  2. At that moment, begin counting at a medium pace — “1,000 and 1, 1,000 and 2, 1,000 and 3, etc.,” until your vehicle reaches the fixed object. (Each count will be about a second.)

If your vehicle passes the object before the end of the suggested following distance time interval count, you’re following too closely!

What to do when someone’s tailgating you

The quicker you spot a tailgater and take defensive action, the more likely you’ll prevent trouble. Here are some refresher tips on how to avoid one of driving’s pet peeves.

Recognizing a tailgater

If you can’t see the entire vehicle in your rear view mirror, the vehicle is a tailgater.

If the vehicle is closing the gap rapidly, has no “out,” and must continue forward, it’s a tailgater.

Getting rid of a tailgater

  • Move to the right and let the vehicle pass — if you can.
  • Encourage passing by slowing down and waving the vehicle on.
  • If the vehicle won’t pass or drop back, pull off the road in a safe location or signal early and make a legal turn — this individual may require so much of your attention that you will miss an important traffic cue up ahead.

How to neutralize a tailgater

  • Slow down gradually as traffic permits.
  • Flash brake lights several times.
  • Use proper arm signal.

Be sure to watch what’s going on up ahead – don’t let tailgaters hypnotize you.

How to deal with the special tailgater

  • The creeper —  keeps getting closer and closer and closer. This requires constant reference to your mirrors to spot this character.
  • The gangbuster —  in a hurry. If you see one coming in someone else’s lane, watch out. After trying to push the other driver, you may be next.
  • If they want through —  help them. You can keep a better eye on them if they’re out in front.

This material is provided for informational purposes only and does not provide any coverage or guarantee loss prevention. The examples in this material are provided as hypothetical and for illustration purposes only. The Hanover Insurance Company and its affiliates and subsidiaries (“The Hanover”) specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that acceptance of any recommendations contained herein will make any premises, or operation safe or in compliance with any law or regulation. By providing this information to you, The Hanover does not assume (and specifically disclaims) any duty, undertaking or responsibility to you. The decision to accept or implement any recommendation(s) or advice contained in this material must be made by you.

LC DEC 2018 11-389
171-1123 (10/14)