Dangers of tailgating and why it should be avoided

With so little space between vehicles, if the first vehicle stops suddenly or manoeuvers, the tailgating vehicle has little to no time to safely stop and avoid a collision. PHOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

Tailgating is dangerous, but there are certain things you can do, or avoid doing, to limit the potential hazard to yourself and other road users.

Tailgating is when a motorist drives behind another vehicle while not leaving sufficient distance to stop without causing a collision if the vehicle in front stops suddenly. Tailgating means you are not keeping a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front. The measure of ‘safe distance’ depends on the speed at which you are travelling, visibility and other road conditions. The safe distance for each country is different but in general, the driver should keep a distance greater than half of the speed in metres or a time gap of two seconds.

Recently, as Mercy Namara was stuck in the evening traffic jam at Kibuye, a Kampala suburb, a motorist from Makindye in Kampala forced their way ahead of her yet she had indicated that she was proceeding to Entebbe Road. In the process, Namara’s front bumper was scratched.  

“As we argued, the traffic officer intervened and gave us a chance to resolve the argument or have our cars towed to the nearest police station. I stood my ground because I was the one closest to the roundabout. When we failed to agree, the traffic officer intervened and the offender had to bear the cost of fixing my car since they had not observed the rules of roundabout usage,” Namara recalls.

Rogers Kauma Nsereko, the traffic commandant Kampala Metropolitan Area, says the motorist adjacent to the roundabout always has a right to go fast regardless of whether motorists are taking the same direction or not. Even then, it is advisable to keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the one ahead of you. What causes tailgating is in most cases impatience and selfishness.

“If you are not able to see the rear tyres of the vehicle ahead of you, it means you are too close to the vehicle. Some of the dangers of tailgating is not only damaging your car but also the one of the motorist ahead of you, causing unnecessary expenses,” Nsereko explains.

Effects of tailgating

Whereas tailgating is synonymous with commuter taxis due to impatience, all categories of vehicles, including private cars can be victims of tailgating. The effects do not segregate. One of them is high chances of the motorist trailing you knocking your vehicle because they did not anticipate your sudden braking. This explains why some road crashes involve more than three vehicles.

“Tailgating is caused by driving at high speeds. The challenge comes when you have to brake abruptly. Once you are driving fast and you brake abruptly, your vehicle will either overturn or be involved in a collision with more vehicles,” Nsereko adds.

Whiplash injuries

Paul Kwamusi, a road safety consultant at Integrated Transport Systems Limited, says tailgating leads to occurrence of whiplash injuries or a soft tissue injury to the neck. For example, when your vehicle is knocked from the rear, you are likely to suffer whiplash injuries because the neck is pushed into shock by unintentionally being pushed to its back under a lot of force.

“If your driving seat has no headrest to guard the head or neck, you could die or experience backbone damage,” Kwamusi explains, adding that one should adjust their headrest to touch the hind head to avoid whiplash injuries. Leaving the head rest below the back of the neck increases the risk of injury to the neck. 

“You can also prevent rear end crashes by regularly checking the driving, left and right side mirrors ensuring they are adjusted to give you a wider view of objects around your vehicle such a vehicle behind yours that has lost control. This helps you to react in time,” Kwamusi advises.

Similarly, as you drive uphill, it is advisable to create space between your vehicle and the one ahead because occasionally, vehicles experience brake failure and move backwards at fast speeds.  

What should I do if I am being tailgated?

According to www.rac.co.uk/drive, although tailgating is dangerous, there are certain things you can do, or avoid doing, to limit the potential hazard to yourself and other road users.

Do not

Do not police the road to teach a tailgater a lesson or be tempted to drive under the speed limit or repeatedly brake to make your point. This only increases the risk of a collision. Just as it is never okay to tailgate, it is also not okay to try and force another motorist to slow down.

Try to stay calm and always stick to the speed limit. If you are on a dual carriageway, pull in and let them pass when safe to do so and if you are on a single carriageway continue at an appropriate speed or pull over somewhere safe and let the person behind pass if they are persistent; it is not worth breaking the law or getting into an accident over.


Try to stay calm. Drivers getting angry over tailgating incidents is a common cause of road rage.

Assess your speed. Are you driving too slowly in the outside lane? If so, move over as soon as it is safe to do so.

Look at your own driving habits and brush up on your Highway Code if you are regularly being tailgated. Ensure you are not also at fault.

Your best to make a dangerous situation as safe as possible.

How can I avoid being tailgated?

While other road users’ bad driving is outside of your control, there are certain tell-tale signs you can look out for to save yourself from getting into the path of a tailgater.

Always be aware of your position on the road and who is around you. If you are pulling on to a motorway, observe which vehicles are keeping a safe distance from the car in front.

If you can see a motorist driving too close to the car in front, remember them and do not be tempted to pull out in front of them at a later stage.

Never pull out into a gap that is too small or if a car is quickly approaching the space.