Nobody likes tailgating yet we still do it

We think tailgating is one of the worst driver habits on the road, yet many of us do it. One reason is simply to stop other drivers taking a space in front of us. Of course, it’s not the only reason. When participants in a survey were asked why they tailgated, road rage and anger was the top response.

More than a quarter of accidents in Australia are rear-end crashes, many caused by tailgating. Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of how close is too close, only a recommendation to leave a “safe” distance between you and the car in front.

What’s a safe distance?

An online survey by Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety revealed:

  • 15% of drivers say they tailgate because the people in front of them are too slow
  • Over 10% were tailgating because they were running late
  • 25 to 40% leave less than 2 seconds between cars
  • 15% of drivers leave only a one-second gap.

Lack of an absolute legal definition of a safe distance may be a problem for some drivers. The rule of thumb in many European countries is 2 seconds. The NRMA recently blogged that Australian drivers should stay 3 seconds behind vehicles in front of them, or longer in hazardous conditions.

Unfortunately, tailgating (among other bad habits) is not only a response to road rage but tends to trigger road rage as well.

Worst city for road rage

According to an AAMI survey in 2015, the worst city in Australia for road rage is Canberra, followed closely by Adelaide:

  • In Canberra, 86.2% of drivers had experienced road rage
  • In Adelaide, 83.4% had experienced road rage
  • Sydney (74.8%) and Melbourne (71.1%) had the lowest rates
  • The national average is 74.9%.

A study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (US) found just over half of American motorists tailgate others on purpose – ironically, 90% of all respondents think aggressive drivers are a threat to their personal safety.

In Australia, up to 86% of drivers are also worried about the aggression of others on the road.

What to do about road rage?

Psychologists at University of Queensland are attempting to find out how personality characteristics, situational circumstances and interpretations contribute to driver aggression. Their study will ask people’s reactions to others’ driving behaviour, how they cope, and their impulsive responses.

Some experts claim people need more education on driving well and avoiding road rage. However, Charles Mountain of RAA Road Safety remains skeptical:

“In my experience, [education campaigns] make no difference because that same breed of people that don’t believe they are offenders, are the groups that never believe those adverts are aimed at them.”

Our blog, Road rage: Don’t drive on Fridays in August revealed Australian motorists surveyed were the ninth worst out of 20 countries for road rage. Chances are it has happened to you today.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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