Why Is Tailgating Dangerous?

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

One minute, you’re cruising along the road safely; the next, you look in your rear mirror and see another vehicle approaching you dangerously fast.

Tailgating is the act of driving too close to the vehicle ahead, and it significantly increases the risk of an accident.

But why is tailgating dangerous?

We explore the dangers of tailgating, why it causes so many rear-end accidents, who is at fault for a tailgating accident in Texas, how to avoid these accidents, and what to do if you’re hurt in a rear-end accident.

Why Do So Many Tailgating Accidents Happen?

Near-all rear-end crashes happen because a driver does not leave a gap to the vehicle ahead or behind.

Researchers have conducted multiple studies into hazard perception to determine how quickly drivers react to hazards on the road.

Attempts to establish a “standard” perception response time (PRT) have resulted in a range of measures, but there is a question mark on how helpful such estimates are.

Dr. Marc Green, a researcher and expert witness with decades of experience in perception, attention, reaction time, and driver behavior — and who has testified in accident cases in courts across the globe — illustrates that there cannot and is not a standard or “generally accepted” PRT.

Many factors impact an individual’s perception and response time, including their age and cognitive load (what else is on their mind).

It’s also impossible to replicate road conditions and simulate how adrenaline kicks in when a driver encounters a hazard and is in genuine danger.

Why is this important when considering rear-end accidents and the dangers of tailgating?

The main reason is that maintaining a gap provides a buffer — a time and space to react. When drivers tailgate, they lose that crucial advantage.

A driver cannot consciously brake or change lanes to avoid a collision when they’ve already hit a car’s rear end by the time they recognize the danger.

The general guideline for maintaining a safe distance is to follow the two-second rule. The two-second rule helps drivers avoid tailgating and reduces the risk of a collision by giving motorists time to react to hazards.

This rule is not enshrined in law, but the Texas Department of Transportation advises individuals to leave a two-second gap in its driving test preparation materials — and a longer gap on congested roads or in poor weather.

Another danger of tailgating is it reduces stopping distance — how much of the road it takes for a car to halt. Stopping distance is proportional to the size and weight of a vehicle, with larger cars or trucks taking longer to stop, but speed plays a role, too.

Take a large or heavy car traveling at considerable speed, and it becomes clear why tailgating is dangerous. The space between vehicles can mean the difference between avoiding a crash and sustaining severe — potentially even life-changing or fatal — injuries.

Why Are Tailgating Drivers Dangerous?

We know how tailgating accidents happen and why the fallout can be catastrophic, but what makes tailgating drivers themselves so dangerous?

Dangerous driving falls into two categories:

  • Careless driving
  • Reckless driving.

A careless driver may not intend harm — they might be a parent momentarily distracted by their crying child in the back of the car or a fatigued driver who suffers a lapse in judgment and pushes through instead of pulling over. Either scenario can cause a driver to miss changes in traffic flow, leading to tailgating.

Some drivers tailgate because they believe they are superior and can react quickly to avoid an accident, but this is rarely accurate. No driver, regardless of their record, experience, or natural aptitude, can predict the actions of other motorists or how an accident will unfold. Even those with higher-than-average reaction speeds would struggle to avoid a collision when they’re so close to a vehicle.

The other type of driver behavior is more severe, as it involves an aggressive, intentional act, and aggressive drivers are unpredictable.

Some motorists tailgate because they think they can get away with it. They place their needs above those of others, so if they’re running late or in a rush, they won’t think twice about tailgating to pressurize a driver to speed up or get close enough to chance an overtake — even if it means endangering their lives and those of others.

Tailgating drivers are dangerous to others precisely because following a vehicle so closely is confrontational. This conduct ties into other aggressive behaviors, such as road rage. A driver running late or who feels slighted might honk incessantly, shout obscenities, speed, and, ultimately, take more risks on the road. Even if they avoid a rear-end accident, there is a risk of another type of crash or a physical confrontation occurring, potentially resulting in violence.

The Danger of Other Types of Accidents Caused by Tailgating

Rear-end collisions are common, but they’re not the only danger of a tailgating accident.

Tailgating can also cause rollovers, head-on collisions, or multi-vehicle pileups. Though rare, if a tailgating driver can react in time to the motorist ahead, they may swerve their vehicle into other traffic or tip the balance, causing it to roll over. Any of these can lead to traffic piling into the crash.

The injuries caused by tailgating accidents can be as impactful and devastating as those sustained in multi-vehicle pileups. Some of the most common tailgating accident injuries include:

Unsure if you have a claim after a tailgating car accident? Book a free, no-obligation case review with our dedicated San Antonio and McAllen auto accident attorney to understand your legal rights and how much compensation you could be entitled to.


Who Is at Fault for a Tailgating Accident in Texas?

Section 545.062 of the Texas Transportation Code states:

“An operator shall, if following another vehicle, maintain an assured clear distance between the two vehicles so that, considering the speed of the vehicles, traffic, and the conditions of the highway, the operator can safely stop without colliding with the preceding vehicle or veering into another vehicle, object, or person on or near the highway.”

The law puts the onus on the driver behind to maintain distance, so if you’re injured in an accident caused by a tailgating driver, you can hold them responsible.

To recover compensation, you must prove they were negligent, which often means you must show they were tailgating you.

Eyewitness statements and CCTV are invaluable, as the at-fault driver may attempt to minimize their liability by claiming you suddenly braked, leaving them with nowhere to go.

The crash report filed by the police can also be vital evidence, particularly if the officer at the scene issues a citation against the at-fault driver for failing to leave space. This offense is a Class C misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $500.

Under negligence per se laws, you can satisfy the requirement to prove negligence in a personal injury claim by showing a driver has violated the law, making it easier for you to recover the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Can a Tailgating Driver Recover Compensation?

A driver might recover compensation for injuries sustained in a rear-end accident even if they were tailgating.

Sometimes, tailgating is unavoidable. You might rear-end a driver who suddenly cuts you off or stops for no valid reason, making you only partly responsible for causing the accident.

Alternatively, you might maintain a two-second gap behind a vehicle and follow it through an intersection, only for the driver ahead to suddenly brake because a third driver has run a red light, shifting the liability to the third driver.

Texas has modified comparative negligence laws, allowing individuals to recover proportionate compensation if they are less than 51% at fault for their crash.

A jury determines the share of fault in a car accident lawsuit, but as with all trials, there is a risk of the verdict not being in your favor.

It’s vital to consult a personal injury lawyer if you’re injured in a dangerous tailgating accident. Our San Antonio and McAllen accident attorney can explore your options, gather evidence proving liability, and determine the strength of your case if you are partly responsible.

How to Avoid the Dangers of a Tailgating Accident

In a perfect world, every driver would uphold their obligation to drive safely. Sadly, we know that’s often not the reality. You cannot control the actions of others, but you can take steps to reduce the risk of a dangerous tailgating accident by following safe driving practices.

Maintain a Safe Distance

Staying at least two seconds behind the vehicle ahead provides a safety buffer, allowing you to react if the driver brakes or stops.

The easiest way to achieve this is to choose a stationary object next to the road, such as a tree or sign. When the car ahead passes it, count to two. If you cross the same object before you’ve finished counting, you are too close and should increase the distance.

Remember, the two-second rule is a guideline. Road conditions are constantly changing, and you should modify your distance accordingly. If you’re traveling on a highway or other high-speed road, consider leaving a gap of four to six seconds. You should also give more space if you are driving in bad weather, such as rain, snow, high winds, or fog, which can compromise visibility and make roads slippery.

To avoid being tailgated by a driver behind you, adjust your side and rear-view mirrors to reduce blind spots and regularly check them, being alert to any vehicles getting too close.

Exercise Caution When Driving at Night

Driving at night or in low-light conditions presents additional challenges and hazards, increasing the risk of a tailgating accident.

Poor visibility can make it hard to manage a safe gap. Using your headlights helps you to see motorists ahead and makes you more visible to vehicles behind.

Driver fatigue is a common cause of accidents and a prominent factor in night-time accidents. Driving while tired compromises reaction speed; losing concentration for just a fraction of a second can cause you to miss a hazard or drift too close to a vehicle. Only drive when fully alert and pull over for a break if you feel drowsy.

Follow Good Driver Etiquette

Not all drivers are considerate when they’re in a rush or frustrated after a long day, but following basic driver etiquette can be the key to avoiding a devastating tailgating accident.

If a driver is tailgating or approaching you quickly and you’re on the limit, the safest action is to let them pass. Move over to the right-hand lane when it’s safe, or pull over so they can overtake. Having to stop is frustrating, and there is a valid argument that you wouldn’t have to pull over if the other driver was doing their bit to abide by the law, but a minor annoyance is far better than the alternative of suffering potentially severe or fatal injuries in a tailgating accident.

Patience is a virtue, as the saying goes, but it also protects against the dangers of tailgating accidents. Roads are unpredictable, and you may be in a hurry to get to your destination even after taking measures such as leaving early and planning your route, but resist the urge to keep changing lanes. Weaving in and out of congested traffic can increase the likelihood of a crash, as you may catch drivers off-guard or collide with others who have the same idea.

Exercising patience also extends to your treatment of others. Drivers can become aggressive for many reasons, and a verbal confrontation or rude gesture can escalate into something more severe. If you encounter an angry driver, stay calm instead of jumping to defend yourself. Fighting fire with fire can lead to road rage, and an aggressive driver might intentionally tail your vehicle closely or steer into you. In this scenario, remain alert, do not engage, and call the police if you feel threatened.

Keep on Top of Vehicle Maintenance

Drivers do not always intentionally follow too closely, but that doesn’t make tailgating accidents less dangerous. Brake defects can cause a driver to crash into the back of a vehicle even if they’re maintaining a safe gap.

Regular maintenance is crucial for ensuring the longevity of your vehicle and preventing entirely avoidable accidents.

Why You Should Hire a Lawyer If You’re in a Tailgating Car Accident

If you’re in a tailgating accident, the first step you should take — after seeking medical attention for your injuries — is to speak with a personal injury lawyer.

An attorney can assess your case to determine how much compensation you might be entitled to and identify the person responsible for your injuries.

A car accident lawyer can also gather evidence to support your claim and negotiate with stubborn insurance companies to secure a fair settlement that compensates you for your medical bills, vehicle repairs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other damages you’ve suffered.

Handing your claim to an experienced attorney relieves the burden and lets you focus on what’s most important: recovering from your injuries.

If you’re in a tailgating accident that wasn’t your fault and think you may be entitled to compensation, contact our McAllen and San Antonio personal injury lawyers for a free, no-obligation case review. We’ll explain your legal rights and your chances of recovering compensation.

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