New figures show that one in eight of all road casualties are caused by people who drive too close to the vehicle in front, with more than 100 people killed or seriously injured each year.
While a small minority of tailgating is deliberate, most is unintentional by drivers who are simply unaware they are dangerously invading someone else’s space.
So Highways England has launched a ‘stay safe, stay back’ safety campaign using the well-known Space Invader video game character to alert drivers to the anti-social nature and risks of tailgating.
A survey by Highways England found that tailgating is the biggest single bugbear that drivers have about other road users. And in-car research – using dashcams, facial recognition, emotion tracking and heart monitors – has revealed that a driver’s typical reaction to someone who tailgates them is surprise, anger and contempt, with a spike in heart rate.
Nearly nine out of ten motorists who took part in the survey said they had either been tailgated or seen it, and more than a quarter admitted to tailgating.
The campaign is supported by one of the world’s best drivers, former Formula 1 world champion Nigel Mansell, who is President of the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ RoadSmart division.
“Tailgating is a driving habit I utterly deplore,” he said. “Not only is it aggressive and intimidating, but it can lead to a crash with a tragic outcome. There is absolutely no upside to it – you will not get to your destination faster, you are not a skilled driver for doing it, and you are putting so many innocent people at risk. So I very much back this campaign to highlight the dangers of tailgating.”
Richard Leonard, Head of Road Safety at Highways England, added: “If you get too close to the car in front, you won’t be able to react and stop in time if they suddenly brake. Tailgating makes the driver in front feel targeted and victimised, distracting their attention from the road ahead and making them more likely to make a mistake.
“It is intimidating and frightening if you’re on the receiving end. If that leads to a collision, then people in both vehicles could end up seriously injured or killed. We want everyone to travel safely, so the advice is – stay safe, stay back.”
If you wonder whether you are actually ‘space invading’, the Highway Code says drivers should allow at least a two second gap, which should be doubled on wet roads. And if you are tailgated, you should avoid speeding up, slowing down or staring in the rear-view mirror. Reduce the risk to yourself by driving normally, signalling clearly and allowing people to overtake.