What to do when your car is being tailgated

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  • Tuesday, 10 Mar 2020

If you’re being tailgated, under no circumstances should you hit the brakes or show them the middle finger. You may end up with a fine yourself if you did that. — dpa

They flash their lights and drive up close behind you: pushy, tailgating drivers are all too common a problem on motorways.

It’s easy to feel intimidated or angry, but traffic safety experts say it’s crucial to remain calm in this situation, even if it can prove difficult sometimes.

Under no circumstances should you hit the brakes or make a provocative gesture at the tailgater, since this can be considered just as punishable as the other’s pushiness.

“Just because someone is reckless, does not mean you have to be too, ” says Soeren Heinze of the German automobile association Auto Club Europa.

His advice: If you’re in the fast lane when it happens, move over to the slow lane at the next opportunity and make way for the other driver.

Don’t be tempted to speed

If you are driving through a construction site and for instance get tailgated by a lorry, check the speed limit – maybe you overlooked a sign and are now allowed to drive 80km instead of 60km per hour. If so, adjust your speed. But it is never advisable to drive too fast because of a tailgater.

Drivers do not have to put up with everything, however. When is tailgating punishable by law? What matters is, broadly speaking, duration and intensity.

In some countries such as in the EU, brief tailgating can be a traffic offence punishable by a fine, traffic law expert Daniela Mielchen says. And yet it does not amount to the criminal offence of coercion.

Braking to punish tailgaters is a no-go

Tailgating over a long period of time, especially with a significant danger or with flashing headlights is deemed a punishable offence in several countries.

But the same goes for the person being tailgated, and risky responses such as hitting the brakes or changing lanes to prevent the tailgater from overtaking can equally be met with fines.

“You don’t have an educational mandate, ” Heinze says. “In such a situation, you should above all strive to quickly end the danger.”

Victims can usually file a complaint at the nearest police station or by telephone, Mielchen says.

What is important is to remember the place and time of the incident, as well as the registration number of the other vehicle. A passenger in your car may be able to use a smartphone to help here.

You should be able to describe as accurately as possible the car – colour, make and model – and the person who was driving it. You should also provide the names of your passengers, as they may be questioned as witnesses. – dpa

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Tailgaters , driving etiquette


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