Posted December 29, 2005 by Evan Tishuk

On two separate instances there were massive delays caused by accidents. Since everyone was grumbling along at less than three miles per hour, I was able to get a really good long look at the accident scenes. Both had the tell-tale signs of tailgating induced rear-enders:

  • little to no damage to the minivan in front
  • crumpled hood on the sportscar in back
  • a really pissed off soccer mom glaring at a punk who likes to drive too fast
  • about 9,500 people ready to rip their steering wheels off and decapitate the guilty party

Tailgating is Stupid
Riding someone's bumper doesn't get you anywhere any faster! Instead, it raises your stress level while reducing your safety and stopping distance. Worse still, it typically triggers waves of brake lights to reverberate backwards thereby slowing down the rest of the traffic behind you. If we use the categorical imperative to determine the morality of tailgating we would see that "if everyone were to tailgate everyone else" we'd have a constantly accelerating mass of cars that would eventually approach the speed of light and vaporize in the atmosphere (or open a portal to another dimension). That can't be good. But seriously, it's stupid.

Science of Tailgating
Former Acadia University physics professor, Doug "DC" Craigen, says:

The loss of critical stopping distance and reaction time makes this very unsafe. Also, the shorter time forces us to react more strongly to everything the car in front does, making the drive much harder on our nerves and on our car. Can we justify all this by getting to our destination faster?

Short answer: no. But here's the interesting long answer (some algebra).

With science in mind, could someone please point me to the study that shows how much lost productivity can be attributed to traffic jams and accidents caused by tailgating? I have to imagine it would be immense enough to warrant a serious anti-tailgating campaign.

A Solution
What if instead of tailgating we use a safer more polite and utilitarian method of saying, "I'm going faster than you, get out of my way?" Here's an actionable idea: start using your horn more. If that's too harsh, we should make another horn tone that is less alarming and more "excuse me."


nobrainer ~ December 29, 2005

Indeed, the horn may need to become more useful (as should some people's mirrors).

In my experience, the most dangerous tailgating situations aren't caused by intentional tailgating. Instead, typically on a two lane highway, a slow moving vehicle in one lane prompts everyone to merge into the other. Suddenly X number of well spaced cars becomes 2X tailgating cars and the accordian effect ensues. What's more, anyone who allows proper spacing in this situation, usually has someone zoom up in the slow lane and fill the gap.

Heck, I nearly got plowed by a full sized truck that wasn't even tailgating me in this situation. The accordian effect was so strong that the fast lane came to a complete stop. The guy in the truck behind me, who must have been at least a hundred yards behind was slow to react and stopped about 6 inches from my bumper. The guy behind him ended up almost beside me in the grass.

In all, it is a rather complex interaction that has no good solution other than for everyone to recognize it and play along, which rarely happens.

David Burn ~ December 29, 2005

Rats in a cage, man. That's what it's all about.

Evan Tishuk ~ December 29, 2005

Is this not a tragedy of the commons? The resource in this case is time (or distance over time). The only problem is that the benefits just aren't there as in the classic "Tragedy of the commons" scenarios.

Bobby ~ December 29, 2005

This wouldn't be a problem if soccer mom's in minivans followed the cardinal rule of driving: THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING. I'm sure the rapscallion in the sports car was simply trying to continue his forward progress until he came upon some middle aged woman sipping on a bottle Evian while not paying attention in the PASSING LANE. If she was where she was supposed to be (in the right lane), Rapscal would have passed her with no problem. People just don't pay attention. And when I say people, I mean women and Chinese drivers. I'm kidding. But seriously, my dad has been teaching me since day one to stay out of the left lane unless I'm passing. Coming from a man who passes regardless of lane structure and dotted lines, he still preaches the truth. My mother on the other hand, has no problem going the speed limit in the left lane. I've tried to convince her otherwise, but it doesn't seem to bother her.

My solution consists of a scrolling message board atop everyone's car. They would be used in many instances... for example, "Move! my wife is having a baby!" "Sorry about cutting you off, my fault" or "Thanks for letting me in." I've accidentally cut others off before and wished I had some medium to convey an apology. It happens sometimes. And I'd rather get a sincere "Thank You" in writing than the common head nod of appreciation or the "appreciate it" hand gesture.

In conclusion, if everyone learned to stay out of the left lane except for passing...tailgating wouldn't be as much of an issue. It wouldn't be an issue at all. The left lane would flow with happy drivers who will take their chances with Johnny Law, while the right lane would be filed with drivers who are more worried about applying their lipstick in the rear view mirror and separating thier children in the back seat.

James Simons ~ December 29, 2005

Colorado just recentlly passed a law that makes driving in the left lane without passing a ticketable offense (I think the fine is $50). I thought it was rather useless because how often would people ACTUALLY get pulled over. That is until a guy I worked with got pulled over for it and was bitching about it at work. And after driving with him a few times after that, the ticket had the desired affect. He stopped driving in the left lane.

As for a solution to tailgating. I think flashing the lights is the best method, because usually people notice the lights in their mirrors although they might not hear the horn due to music. This seems to be the method of choice in Europe (where they drive like wild animals)

Bobby ~ December 30, 2005

That is awesome...finally a traffic law that makes sense...unlike those stupid yeild signs.

Adam Gautsch ~ December 30, 2005

Did Bobby just call yield signs stupid?

Bobby ~ December 30, 2005

Yielding is for the weak. Sometimes you just gotta take a stand and go for it.

I really hate stop signs though. According to the National Driver's Association, 70% of stop signs make people come to unnecessary stops. Actually, I just made that up, but I do have a solution.

Stop signs should be on a timer and at certain times of day, the should have different electronic messages. How many times have you come to a stop sign at 2 am without a single car on the road and out of fear of being pulled over, you come to a complete stop? If you're like me, I have to do it at least 3 times a night on my way home. These signs should be switched from "Stop", to "Proceed with Caution" or something like that. There is no reason for a complete stop. Stopping sucks. It's a waste of time. Also, red lights late at night should be switched to flashing red lights. Again, stopping sucks ecspecially if there is not another car in sight. And we all know that flashing red lights rule. I know you are saying, "Hey, Bobby, flashing red lights are the same thing as Stop signs." Well, no there are not. Driving through a flashing red light gives me the sensation that I doing something wrong, but I'm allowed to. It's a good feeling. So in conclusion, if I controlled the roads we'd all be a lot happier.

American ~ September 06, 2006

LOL, tailgating would not be a problem if people wouldn't drive in the left lane?? You obviously haven't driven in the greater Cincinnati area...tailgating is the norm here, no matter what lane you're in. People here are the stupidist, rudest, most selfish lawbreakers I have ever encountered, and I've lived in several states, including California. No one here (except me and 1 or 2 others!) cares about speed limits, stop signs or turn signals. I plan to move back to California as soon as possible, just to get these ppl off my arse--literally!

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