Call me a wuss, but I’ve developed a “thing” about tailgaters—and I don’t mean parking-lot picnickers at football games. I’m talking about those drivers who follow too close for my comfort. Thanks to these bullies—for that’s what many of them are—I no longer feel as relaxed in traffic as I used to. Okay, being close to 65 has something to do with that, but never I have felt the need to be on constant red alert, scanning for signs of encroachment and becoming rather nervous if a vehicle suddenly looms large in my mirror to threaten a rear-ender—especially if it’s a vehicle much bigger than my little Jetta wagon. And make no mistake: Tailgating is a rear-ender or chain-reaction crash just waiting to happen.
I don’t know if tailgating is more common nowadays, but I sure notice it more. The reason is that for the past year or so, this home-based worker has gladly taken on the job of transporting precious cargo to doggie daycare three times a week, thus letting myself in for the same frustrations and health hazards that so many of you suffer.
Most of my 40-mile round trip involves the North Phoenix portion of the Loop 101 freeway. We typically run 8-9 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. Now even at rush hour, Phoenix roads and streets are usually dream drives compared to the clogged arteries I’ve known in L.A. and Chicago. And except for the inevitable go-slow congestion and occasional accident-related backups, traffic on “my” part of the 101 flows right along, often near the posted 65-mph limit.
But some drivers just won’t go with the flow, so they weave in and out of lanes, determined to occupy almost any gap that opens up. They’re usually speeding, of course, and I just love seeing these jerks getting ticketed a few miles down the road or, if they escape John Law, catching up with them at the next off-ramp or intersection. All that effort to “make time” and nothing to show for it. How dumb.
I imagine other people tailgate because they’re driving distracted and/or don’t realize what they’re doing. When I learned to drive, back in the early 1960s, there was a rule-of-thumb that said a safe following distance—in ideal conditions—equals one car length for every 10 mph; so 60 mph, six car lengths. That may seem, er, wussy in this age of antilock brakes, stability control, and crash-avoidance systems, but I still think it a reasonable reference point. Remember, too, that braking distances are way longer on wet and snowy roads, so you have to allow more space and time to stop. In addition, braking performance can vary a good deal between ostensibly identical vehicles, even when brand-new. I know this from years of road-test experience.
Speaking of which, how many of you have experienced a full-on “panic” stop with your own ride in a safe, off-road situation? If you don’t know what it feels like, you may not be prepared for what happens when the occasion arises, as it inevitably will. And by the way, how’s your reaction time these days, bunkie?
But I digress. The worst tailgaters are those who seem to enjoy being bullies. How else to explain the hulking truck that closes in at warp speed and then hangs on my bumper for several nerve-wracking miles, like it’s going to bulldoze me out of the way? Perhaps these guys—and it is mostly guys, though more women seem to be joining in—don’t understand or just don’t care how intimidating their actions can appear to other drivers. Or how dangerous their driving is for themselves and everyone around them. I suspect some of these people actually get off on that. What else explains such recklessness unless they’re playing like the NASCAR ace who drafted his way to victory last weekend?
Whatever it is that causes people to tailgate, I will not play their game, and neither should you. If somebody tries to make you a bumper car, move over and let ’em by, because in my experience that’s all most of them want anyway, a simple adolescent ego fix. If you can’t find immediate safe harbor, adjust your speed up or down until you can ease over. And use your turn signal. They love that.
Yeah, I’m a wuss. So what? At least I’m here to tell this tale—and ready to take my pooches on their next adventure.