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What is/are safe way(s) to deter tailgaters?

I'm looking for a way to give a polite message to the driver that is tailgating that they are following too closely and could potentially cause an accident without angering them and possibly making the situation much more dangerous. This could be for a passive tailgater who doesn't even realize they are following too closely and as well for an aggressive tailgater (to which I'm not sure of a solution).

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    <comments removed> Please do not post answers as comments (joking or not). Comments do not have the features we use to vet and improve this content. If you have an answer, please post it as a proper answer below. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino Apr 17 '15 at 15:56
  • I wouldn't try the 'Steel Tool Box Bolted to Your Roof / Trunk' method. While 100% effective, the police don't think it's very funny! (From 'The Red Green Show!) – Doug.McFarlane Oct 8 '15 at 20:30

12 Answers 12

63

For someone aggressively tailgating, they generally want to pass, so you can slow down and pull to the side, or change lanes if possible, so they can pass you. You don't want to have them around you so letting them pass is your best option. Unless you did something to anger them, like cutting them off. In which case you will either have to deal with it for a short while or call the police because they will likely just tailgate you till they are satisfied. Whatever you do, do not stop or engage them, people die this way.

The problem with the other type is generally they aren't paying attention so there isn't much you can do besides my first suggestion since they won't notice anything you do because they aren't paying attention.

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    @LuckyLuc - That would only really work if your sprayers are badly misaimed and thus pretty much useless for their intended use. – Compro01 Apr 17 '15 at 2:34
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    I find this very useful, as when I - and please don't be hard on me lol - do this, is when someone is blocking traffic by going the exact same speed as the vehicle he/she is trying to pass. Tailgating is a horrible thing to do - I admit that - , but sometimes you have to think about it if there's a reason why you are being almost literally pushed out of the way. Let them pass, safer for everyone, even for the dicks like me. – Alex Szabó Apr 17 '15 at 15:00
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    I agree with Alex Szabo, it really depends on why you are being tailgated. Honestly, there are reasons people get tailgated, and most of the time it's because you're either going too slow, you're holding up the passing lane on a 4 lane highway(in which case, you need to either pass or get over, because this is annoying as well), or you're going too slow for them(in which case, you're doing nothing wrong, and probably can't do much about). Tap the brakes, slow down(safely), or just get out of their way and let them move on to their miserable life. – New-To-IT Apr 17 '15 at 16:44
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    +1 for mentioning why you're likely being tailgated. Incidentally, in many U.S. states (if not most of them,) it's actually illegal to drive right beside someone else in the passing lane. In Virginia, it's automatic reckless driving. It's called the passing lane for a reason. You're only supposed to use it when you're actually passing the vehicle in the other lane. – reirab Apr 19 '15 at 17:07
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    +1 for encouraging people to pull over and get out of my way. – Captain Obvious Apr 20 '15 at 5:36
35

Examine your environment. What's the speed limit? Are you going too slow, or is the tailgater going too fast? Is there a way they could pass you, or you could move out of the way? Give them an opening, if you can. A lot of times, these problems can be solved by focusing on the world around you, instead of just focusing on the angry person behind you.

Of course, if you're dealing with a person who's tailgating you just to be a jerk, then there is little you can do to resolve the problem. Just slow down (gently) to avoid serious damage.

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    +1 Good thinking about being conscious about your surroundings. Not sure about others, but in our country, you must let someone pass, even if he is going way above the speed limit. I think this could be the accepted answer, as it teaches a very important lesson about knowing what's around you, and that can help you anticipate better what's going to happen, thus giving you control. Great answer! – Alex Szabó Apr 17 '15 at 15:04
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    +1 For letting people pass regardless of the speed. That is also the law here in Brazil. Braking (even if just tapping the brakes) in front of them is one the most dangerous actions I can imagine. – Rafael Lerm Apr 18 '15 at 18:06
31

Many are suggesting to use the brakes which seems a very risky proposition.

Someone used the following technique on me when I was inadvertently tailgating a corvette that was driving irresponsibly (he was gunning it when the light changed to hurry up to that next red light.) I assumed he would speed off at any moment so was following a little too close for his comfort.

He put on his hazard lights for a few flashes. That immediately got my attention and did not use the brake at all. This is less abrasive than the windshield wiper method but probably can't be seen as a coincidence but is less likely to further anger someone I would think.

However, none of these answers will likely work for the aggressive tailgater out to get you, so you should probably (try to) let them pass.

21

I generally do the following::

  • Ease off on the accelerator

    • This slows us both down and reduces the potential impact of a later collision
    • It also makes it easier for them to overtake and more likely that they'll do so
  • Tap the brakes gently occasionally in the hope that the lights cause them to slow down

Slowing down in either of these ways obviously creates some risk that they'll immediately hit me, but the relative speed would be low so it's better than a serious rear-ending later if I have to stop suddenly.

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    +1 for tapping the brakes. No need to brake, just get their attention. – Thorst Apr 17 '15 at 7:37
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    Tapping the brakes you could accidentally press them and cause an accident. Better use the rear fog light, as suggested by jammypeach – algiogia Apr 17 '15 at 13:41
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    You're assuming this prospective driver is a reasonable person that's absent-mindedly tail-gating. From my experience tail-gating is a conscious decision and conveying the message "I want to go faster - you're in my way." Break-checking someone like that means you want to get into it with them. – coburne Apr 17 '15 at 19:18
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    Note that passing isn't always possible. Most of the time is someone is tailgating you because of your speed, it's precisely because they can't pass you. If there's some reason you need to drive slower than the normal speed of traffic, you should just pull over and let them pass. This is actually the law where I live. Tapping the brakes is generally a bad idea and is quite dangerous. It's likely considered reckless driving in many places (because it is reckless driving.) – reirab Apr 19 '15 at 17:13
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    This answer reflects what is taught in defensive driving courses in New Zealand. Tap the brakes, to make the rare brake lights flash and also to make you slow down. The slower you are, the safer it is for the tailgater to pass you. – Greenstone Walker Apr 20 '15 at 3:56
10

I had a friend tell me his "trick" today for deterring tailgating and I actually gave it a shot on my commute home.

Basically, if a car is following you too closely, you can pretend to adjust your rear view mirror repeatedly. I just lifted my arm up and slowly wiggled the thing while driving, with my eyes forward the whole time.

The car that was tailgating me let off the accelerator for a couple minutes before resuming with the tailgating. I did it again, and sure it enough he let up some space again! Not sure why, maybe the person behind gets "spooked" that the person in front is watching them (meanwhile they can't actually see the driver)?

5

A technique I've found useful on occasion is to briefly turn on the headlights. This causes the brake lights to illuminate as if you're braking, but without reducing your speed at all.

The illuminated brake lights are generally enough to get the tailgater to back off (as they think you're slowing down), but since you don't actually lose any speed there's no risk of closing the gap and causing a tail-end collision.

This is a similar approach as the left-foot braking advocated in Lefty's answer, but much easier to accomplish safely (especially if you're not practiced at left-foot braking).

There are, however, a few downsides to the technique:

  • Some vehicles have automated headlights, which makes the technique difficult or impossible to apply (@holroy).
  • The flashing headlights may confuse traffic ahead of the vehicle, as they think you're trying to communicate to them. (@David Richerby)
  • It's not going to work at night, since (hopefully) your headlights are already turned on.

As a result, this won't be useful under all circumstances. However, it should still be useful to some drivers, under some circumstances.

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    In Norway (and most part of Europe) where the headlights are turned on automatically, this will not work. Both head- and taillights will always be on, so this wouldn't trigger any brake lights. – holroy Apr 17 '15 at 9:37
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    @holroy Even if flashing the headlights does cause the tail-lights to come on, it's also likely to be misinterpreted by the car in front of you as an attempt to send some message to them. – David Richerby Apr 19 '15 at 15:55
  • @DavidRicherby Mis interpreted? I thought the point here was precisely to send them a message. – reirab Apr 19 '15 at 17:14
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    @reirab The suggestion is that flashing your headlights will also flash your tail-lights, sending a message to the person who's tailgating you. My point is that it also looks like you're trying to communicate with the completely innocent driver in front of you. For example, as I understand it, in Germany, flashing your headlights at somebody on the autobahn means "Get out of my way -- I want to overtake." – David Richerby Apr 19 '15 at 17:35
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    @DavidRicherby: you make a valid point. Where I am (Australia), flashed headlights are often used to warn oncoming traffic of road hazard (e.g. speed traps, road contamination, etc). This doesn't mean the technique cannot be used at all, it just means that a driver should be careful to take other traffic into account when deciding whether to apply it. – Mac Apr 19 '15 at 22:55
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How do I stop cars from tailgating?

I have a method which works well and/but which I use only in circumstances where it seems likely to reduce and not increase the all round risk. I've used it more on large trucks than cars.

Why do it:

If it makes good sense to let the tailgater go I would generally do so.
This may not be the case in some traffic situations where the tailgater is dangerously close if a stop is required and allowing overtaking is not a good immediate option. Reasons for this can arise for a range of reasosns but two typical situations are if allowing overtaking may

  • increase the danger as they overtake (some mix of: tight winding road, low visibility, wet, no overtaking lines, ...)

  • create a situation where my overall 'quality of travel' would be severely degraded with no or vastly less gain (eg stock transporter streaming effluent in a high traffic country road situation - if he overtakes me he is then trapped in front of me and I get splattered with cattle excrement for many miles - dangerous as well as unpleasant.

Warning: Bear in mind in the following situations that a large laden truck may weigh 40 tons and probably mote than 20, and has a stopping distance better than ocean liners and freight trains but much much much worse than for cars. The action should be taken to try to reduce the chance of deathy not to increase it.

Method:

Ease very gently back on throttle to close gap between you and tailgater and, "until you are certain that you have their attention". ie there WILL come a point where they must be aware that the gap is closing towards zero. You are hardly if at all in any more danger at this point as an accident was almost certain in the prior case in the event of a sudden stop.

Then continue to slowly lower your roadspeed and open the gap between you and the vehicle ahead of you. The vehicle behind you has no realistic option but to maintain minimum gp and lower speed. An utter idiot / drunk / man on a mission may make vehicle to vehicle contact, but this is extremely unlikely, and you might as well find out about him now with some degree of control, than later by mistake.

When an "adequate" gap has opened up in front of you accelerate "very crisply" and then brake very visibly (good long burst of brakelights) to arrive at and maintain a safe following distance behind the car in front of you.

The tailgater is now well clear of you, you are at safe speed and distance from the car in front and the tail gater is travelling below queue speed. They can choose to adapt, to now maintain a safe distance, or may "as sometimes happens" accelerate aggressively and get back 'on your tail'. You can repeat the procedure above multiple times and they cannot prevent you doing so BUT odds are that 2 or 3 times max is the most that is useful. It it has not worked after a few applications a modified version will work, one way or another.

Plan B

Drop back as before and stay back. If possible and useful make it possible for them to overtake safely. If they do not overtake and do not increase the following gap you can maintain a following distance that is enough for both of you in an emergency.

Occasions where I would try not to allow them to overtake might be the "stock truck" situation where they cannot go anywhere once they have passed and will then be splattering excrement all over your car indefinitely. In such cases you can generally control the speed and location of the following vehicle. If they are so aggressive as to continue to threaten your life repeatedly then a record of their number plate and a subsequent telephone call may help prevent others being similarly threatened. Large heavily laden trucks generally cannot realistically overtake in such situations if not 'allowed to'.

Again - the aim is to improve safety and reduce risk overall. If you can realistically let them go then doing so will often be the best choice.

3

You don't want to brake when you're being tailgated — but you do want to activate your brakelights. That's why a friend installed a mechanism to activate brake lights without actually braking. He said that he wasn't sure if it was quite legal — but that it certainly was effective.

Of course, if someone is actively assaulting you, the correct response is to phone emergency services (112, 911, etc., depending on location).

  • Just an FYI, if you ever want your brake lights to go on without actually braking much (usually not at all), lift the handbrake until the brake light comes on. This will activate the rear lights, interior brake light (usually), and also will do this before the brake pads actually make contact with the rotor or drum. Even slight contact from the parking brake should you pull it up too far will not significantly slow the car. This will also work with the foot mounted parking brake, but I don't recommend interacting with it during driving. – Ehryk Jun 2 '15 at 17:42
  • You could also just touch your breaks. In the vehicles I drive, you have to press them a bit before they actually start breaking, but the lights come on immediate. Tested and true in Honda CRV models between 2005 and the most recent, Isuzu NPR Trucks, Ford F350, F450, and F550 trucks, and in Ford Rangers. Not sure about others. – user22794 Nov 24 '17 at 22:07
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You could put some sort of sign on the back of your car like a piece of poster board in the window (maybe a small piece of plywood and some screws? Although that could damage your car.) that says something about not going any faster so they can just go around.

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    I can't see how this wouldn't aggravate them... – Mooseman Apr 16 '15 at 19:28
  • A sign reminding them to keep the safety distance seems a good idea. – algiogia Apr 17 '15 at 13:47
  • I used to have a bumper sticker that said "FOLLOW ME TO CERTAIN DEATH". It seemed to deter tailgaters, but more scientific study is obviously required. – Kevin Krumwiede Apr 18 '15 at 2:28
  • @louism: Unfortunately, the one time that I saw that sign in the wild it had a green background right before it disappeared below the hoodline. – dotancohen Apr 18 '15 at 15:40
1

My experience in my area is some percentage of tailgaters will correct themselves after you flash the brakes, some percentage will correct themselves if you slow down by 5 or 10 MPH, and some percentage will correct themselves after you do both, and this adds up to almost all tailgaters, although some are more stubborn than others.

I usually flash my brakes first, as it also counts as a warning that I'm going to start slowing down. (flashing the brakes is also useful to make sure you're noticed by someone who is a ways behind you and travelling a fair bit faster than you)

"Correct themselves" usually means that they will finally think about passing you, although occasionally it means they will back off a bit (and some will even maintain a reasonable distance for a while after you speed back up).

I am the only person on the road who travels the speed limit, though; if you tend to speed, you'll probably get different results than I do. (also, different areas probably have different driving habits)


I will also advise giving yourself a lot of extra room between yourself and the car ahead of you, so as to reduce the likelihood you'll have to slow down rapidly and consequently exacerbate the danger of being tailgated.

  • If you're the only person on the road driving a certain way, you're likely an obstacle to the general flow. The safer thing to do would be to continue driving predictably (unpredictability leads to risk), use your turn signal, and move/pull over. – Captain Obvious Apr 20 '15 at 5:46
  • @Jason: Right, speed changes are gradual: You shouldn't floor the break to instantly drop 10 MPH; you should coast. (and even then I don't completely take my foot off the accelerator if the person is tailgating extra close) Also, I've had bad experiences the few times I've tried out moving into the 'fast' lane to get out of the way of a tailgater, so I don't really consider that option anymore. – Hurkyl Apr 20 '15 at 14:43
  • I don't understand what sort of bad experiences you could have had moving out of the way ... Could you elaborate ? – brhans Apr 20 '15 at 15:14
  • @brhans; Two kinds: (1) if the person behind me (or behind him) finally decides to pass and moves over while pressing the accelerator at the same time I do. (2) the traffic behind me doesn't pass very fast, and I get stuck in the fast lane long enough for more traffic to arrive (and fast lane traffic usually contains people who tailgate worse). I should comment that the vast majority of my driving is on highways and expressways, and it is that setting I had in mind. – Hurkyl Apr 20 '15 at 15:20
  • I'd never even considered the idea of needing to move into the fast lane to allow a tailgater to pass me in the slow lane ... the mind boggles. – brhans Apr 20 '15 at 15:25
1

Using the above methods to remain safe. You can always use your wiper blades as a deterrent. Typically if someone is following very closely, it will spray onto their wind shield. Again, only use this method if you are alerting the driver, do not use this method to drive ANGER to the situation, just throw him off his feet for a minute so he realizes he is following closely. I do this all the time and people just move out of the way, no horns, no FU, just a quick pass and they are no longer tailgating me.

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Consider why they're tailgating. You should be paying attention to the road and the traffic, driving close to the speed limit (weather/etc. conditions permitting) and staying in the right lane(s) except to pass. If you're substantially under the speed limit, speed up or occasionally move safely off the road to let others pass. If you're in the left lane and you're not passing at a reasonable (quick) rate, move over! No need to "give a message". Stay out of the way of other drivers is the rule that I follow and expect (hope) other drivers will follow.

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    Please comment if you're going to downvote. – jrw32982 Sep 5 at 12:10

protected by Mooseman Apr 17 '15 at 10:49

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