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The Scientific Reason Tailgating is Dangerous

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The closer a vehicle travels to the vehicle in front of it, the greater the likelihood that a rear-end accident will occur because the smaller safety cushion between the two vehicles results in a significant reduction in perception and reaction time allowed. Motorists can reduce the possibility of an accident by maintaining a safe following distance and stopping far enough away that they can still see the other vehicle’s bumper. 

Doing so could help reduce the more than 2,000 fatalities and 950,000 injuries per year that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributes to rear-end collisions.

This is especially true in low-light and bad weather conditions that make it more difficult to accurately judge the distance between vehicles and the speed of their forward movement when the vehicle resumes motion. It’s simply an unsafe driving behavior that motorists can easily alter and use to protect themselves.

The Science Behind the Logic

Drivers who tailgate reduce the distance they have to bring their vehicle to a safe stop without colliding with the vehicle they are following. As with all moving objects, the larger the mass and velocity of the vehicle, the greater the distance required to bring it to a complete stop. Many drivers misjudge the distance required to stop their vehicle and this driver error is the primary factor in causing a significant number of rear-end accidents.

At stoplights, drivers tend to edge closer to one another as they anticipate a light change. This dramatically reduces the distance between vehicles and any change in acceleration from the first vehicle won’t leave the following vehicles sufficient distance to respond and stop. From a psychological perspective, motorists do this to get through the light faster. 

However, researchers at Virginia Tech have shown that there is only a minor difference in the time it takes stopped vehicles to pass through an area from Point A to Point B even when the distance between the vehicle’s bumpers is increased by a factor of more than 20. The greater the distance between vehicles, the faster the vehicles can accelerate through a given point.    

Ultimately, the time that can be saved by tailgating is less than a few seconds. However, the time lost filling out accident reports with police officers, waiting for insurance adjusters, taking trips to the emergency room, and hiring a car accident attorney to pursue a personal injury claim is significantly longer.  

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