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There are a plethora of traffic laws that we must follow while driving our cars. Most are straightforward, such as not speeding or blowing through a red light. However, there’s one traffic law that most people don’t realize they break: tailgating. This dangerous driving behavior kills and injures many people each year. 

Tailgating traffic law: It’s illegal to follow another car too closely

Car crash with vehicles piled-up, showing tailgating is traffic law drivers break and kills many people
Car crash pile-up | Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Tailgating — or following another car too closely, is one most common traffic laws that drivers break. It’s also dangerous, for it leads to rear-end collisions, which is the most frequent type of car accident.

Tailgating is illegal. Per the Wisconsin DOT, “The operator of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent.” The general rule is to leave a three-second following distance behind other cars. Depending on the speed, this translates to 16 car lengths on average. For some states, including Wisconsin, the recommendation is four seconds. Also, for adverse weather conditions, you should increase the distance even more. 

The reality is that most drivers break this traffic law. Also, tailgating doesn’t mean only riding the rear bumper of another car. It’s anytime you don’t follow this rule of 3-4 seconds and the general 16 car-length guideline. Many drivers leave just a one-second following distance with three car lengths or less for separation, which is too close. For car safety, this is dangerous.

On a two-lane highway near my home, there’s almost always a lineup of cars tailgating each other, even when the vehicle at the front is driving over the speed limit. Sometimes, there are 10 or more vehicles. It’s a strange driving behavior. It’s not as if tailgating the car in front of you is going to get another vehicle five cars ahead to go faster. Unfortunately, this stretch of highway has frequent car crashes, and many have died over the years. 

Tailgating other cars kills and injures thousands of people each year

Car tailgating a vehicle, showing following too closely is traffic law drivers break and kills many people
Car closely following another one | Julian Stratenschulte/Picture alliance via Getty Images

For various reasons, people tailgate, whether it’s impatience, trying to intimidate other drivers to go faster (or change lanes), following the flow of traffic, or a simple lack of awareness. However, it’s the second reason that’s most concerning. Someone uses a very heavy piece of machinery, which can kill and injure, to intimate another driver by riding their rear bumper. When you analyze it logically, it’s quite obvious to see that it’s reckless behavior, but so many people do it. 

Also, the statistics show the dangers of tailgating. Following too closely results in rear-end collisions. Per the NHTSA, rear-end collisions constitute around 30% of all car accidents, which makes them the most common type. Furthermore, these collisions result in 2,000 deaths and 950,000 injuries in the United States each year.

Why don’t the police ticket drivers for following cars too closely?

Given the dangers of tailgating — and the many people killed are injured because of it, it’s puzzling why the police don’t ticket drivers more often for doing this dangerous behavior. For most states, police can enforce this traffic law with a fine and points taken off a license. 

However, in practice, this law is rarely enforced, which is another reason why so many drivers do it. For the sake of everyone’s safety, it would be ideal if the police would ticket drivers more often for tailgating.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to prove that another driver is following too closely, for it’s challenging to measure it. However, there are many obvious incidents of blatant cases of tailgating — with a car right up to another vehicle’s rear bumper.

Some drivers justify their tailgating by saying it’s unfair for slower-moving vehicles to hold up traffic. However, many people tailgate even when the cars ahead of them are going over the speed limit. So, you’re tailgating another driver because they’re “only” driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone — to intimidate them into breaking a traffic law even more. 

Again, it’s illogical and reckless behavior. Some people will tailgate when the car ahead of them is going 10 or more mph over the speed limit, which is even more absurd.

By tailgating, you risk the lives of you and other drivers, so leave some space. It’s a more relaxing and enjoyable ride, too. What’s a better driving experience: relaxing and seeing the scenery around you — or viewing the rear bumper of another car while you tensely have to worry about crashing into it?

Related 5 Reasons Why You Should Not Tailgate a Car

5 Reasons Why You Should Not Tailgate a Car