What is Tailgating in the Eyes of the Law?
Although every driver learns that tailgating, loosely defined as following too closely behind another vehicle, is unsafe at best and reckless at worse, it’s pretty easy to find examples of it during a typical commute. According to a Michelin survey, almost three-quarters of drivers say they’ve been tailgated by another vehicle sometime within the last six months. Curiously, however, only 11 percent of those respondents admit to having tailgated someone themselves.
While it’s easy to accuse these people of not being honest about their driving habits, the fact that nearly half of them also admitted to not know the recommended safe driving distance demonstrates just how much confusion exists around the subject of tailgating. Considering that the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) reported that rear-end collisions were responsible for 2,350 fatalities in 2016 alone, it’s important for motorists to understand what qualifies as tailgating.
Tailgating and Florida Law
So what does Florida law say about tailgating?
Well… nothing, actually.
That’s right. Florida statutes (and those of most states) don’t actually use the term “tailgating.” That doesn’t mean the law doesn’t cover the topic, however. Far from it. Florida Statute 316.0895 lays out what it means to follow another vehicle too closely:
“The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the highway.”
The law does not specifically lay out a definition of what is “reasonable and prudent.” A common “rule of thumb” used by many drivers is the three-second rule, which holds that following three seconds behind the vehicle in front of them will generally provide sufficient stopping distance at any speed.
Unfortunately, the three-second rule is not always a good measure for calculating how much distance is needed to stop suddenly. That’s because the stopping distance of a vehicle is a far more complex calculation than many people realize. Aside from the pure physics of bringing a speeding vehicle to a halt, the biggest problem has to do with reaction time. When a vehicle hits its brakes, the driver following behind it must first recognize the vehicle is braking and then respond by applying their own brakes. Only then does the actual braking distance of the vehicle come into play, which is in turn affected by road conditions.
At high speeds, the driver’s perception and reaction time are critical because the vehicle will cover more distance before they begin braking. This delay partially explains why higher speed limits have been linked to as much as a nine percent increase in road fatalities.
How is Tailgating Determined Legally?
In the eyes of the courts, tailgating generally falls under the category of reckless driving. Since the statute is broadly written, law enforcement officers have substantial latitude when it comes to issuing a citation. Oftentimes, tailgating is listed as the cause of an accident, which could prove significant when determining fault or insurance liability.
However, a driver can easily be pulled over and issued a ticket for tailgating even if an accident did not occur. There are typically two criteria that must be present to justify a moving violation involving tailgating:
- The driver’s vehicle was behind another vehicle in the same lane.
- The driver was following the vehicle too closely to provide a reasonably safe stopping distance.
Because there is so much subjectivity involved here, it is often possible to have a tailgating ticket dismissed. If the driver can demonstrate that there were extenuating circumstances involved, such as another car pulling in front of them before they could reestablish a safe stopping distance, they may be able to avoid being fined or accumulating points on their license.
On the other hand, if a tailgating driver was responsible for an accident, they could face additional liabilities. Following too closely behind another vehicle could not only be a sign of aggressive driving, but also an indication of distraction. A recent AAA study, for instance, found texting while driving made people seven times more likely to cause a rear-end collision.
If you’ve been the victim of a rear-end collision where tailgating was involved, you need the right team in your corner to make sure you receive the justice you deserve. The attorneys at Lowman Law Firm can help you navigate the complex challenges of the legal system to ensure your rights are protected.