Road Safety News

Tailgating and speeding ‘rife’ on motorways: Brake

Thursday 22nd May 2014

In a new survey of drivers, six in 10 respondents admitted to tailgating and a similar proportion to breaking the speed limit by 10mph or more on motorways and 70mph dual carriageways.

The survey by Brake also indicates that men are “by far the worst offenders”.

Despite the fact that 57% admitted doing so, 95% of respondents said they are “at least occasionally concerned about vehicles too close behind them”; and 44% said they are concerned “every, or most, times they drive on a motorway”.

Brake says that by “driving too close to the vehicle in front and breaking the speed limit, drivers are leaving themselves far too little time to react in an emergency, risking devastating crashes”. The charity says that crashes on 70mph roads are more than twice as likely to result in death as crashes on roads with lower speed limits.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of Brake, said: "Almost all drivers are concerned about the danger posed by other people tailgating on motorways, and yet a shockingly high proportion admit driving too close and speeding themselves.

“There are no two ways about it: ignore the two-second rule or the speed limit on motorways and you're putting yourself and others at risk of a horrific crash.

“Traffic laws are not just for other people: all drivers can help make our motorways safer and prevent needless tragedies by committing to keep your distance and stay under speed limits, including temporary lower limits."

Simon Sheldon-Wilson, traffic management director at the Highways Agency, said: "We support Brake's advice to keep a safe distance from the car in front and to adhere to fixed and variable speed limits."


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I am sure that many will be aware of this scenario.

Motorway or any road, overtaken by white van man or any other vehicle for that matter pulls in and cuts you up. Maybe only 20 or 30ft in front and doing 60 or 70mph and you are now tailgating.

The HC advises drivers who have just overtaken to pull in AS SOON AS YOU CAN DO BUT DO NOT CUT IN.

It further goes on to say if being overtaken do not obstruct the overtaking vehicle, maintain your speed and do not accelerate, but maybe slow down to enable it to pass. DROP BACK TO MAINTAIN A TWO SECOND GAP IF SOMEONE OVERTAKES AND PULLS INTO THE GAP IN FRONT OF YOU.

So due to someone els's inconsiderate driving you may be in a situation of committing the offence.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

The difference is that on the road, there are certain things that road users do which, whilst careless and reckless, we should nevertheless 'expect' simply because experience tells us (or should) what to watch out for and we can therefore be prepared for it. It generally separates the accident-prone from the accident-free and more than any other road safety message, it's an attitude of mind that should be emphasised by those involved in road safety at every opportunity.

I would never expect a piano to fall on me but I would expect a pedestrian to walk in front of a stationary bus into the road in front of me for instance, and be able to stop easily. It's better to be pro-active than re-active.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

Nigel, if you always expect the unexpected then you will no doubt be expecting a piano to fall on you at any moment! The piano metaphor is one I use because it is such an unlikely event that nobody would ever consider the possibility of it happening to them. However there are one or two references in the literature of just such a thing happening so that makes the situation entirely possible.

Unexpected events (surprises) happen all the time even to the most skilled and experienced drivers and it is highly unlikely that anybody could complete a journey without there being one or two surprises along the way.,22297
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

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Smack on the point, Hugh. And my perennial question is when will RS policy makers start to understand (and apply) this fundamental point which would so dramatically improve safety on the roads.
Nigel Albright

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

The white van behind the light blue lorry in lane No. 1 on the right hand c/way coming towards the camera can't see what's ahead beyond the lorry, so the first he/she will know (and possibly the last) is when he/she collides with the lorry which has braked hard, if not come to a complete stop.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

I am glad that you brought that up Hugh. It was to be my next observation. That said, I do have another.

The greatest danger on a motorway... the way HGVs are being driven. They all tailgate, only worse, they are less than 20 ft behind the lorry in front. They do this to save money on fuel as they are being partially towed by the vacuum left in the wake of the vehicle in front.

A HGV fully laden will take 3 to 5 times the distance to stop as a car, so you can see just how dangerous tailgating is. Some can even take themselves out of gear and be pulled along in neutral. Hopefully that doesn't happen very often.

When they do overtake they commit the offence of driving without reasonable consideration by holding up traffic in two of the three lanes and travelling at the same speed as the vehicle they wish to overtake. The vehicle being overtaken should, according to the Highway Code, slow to enable that to happen, but do they? No - they continue on for several miles side by side and this causes a tailback of otherwise faster moving traffic. This congestion leads to tailgating and frustration and even anger.

there is your biggest offender for tailgating which should be stopped by the police or the traffic officers of the Highways authorities.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

Interestingly, the photo at the top of this page - a random shot of motorway traffic presumably - shows to me, at least eight vehicles less than a safe distance to the one in front. I'm not convinced motorists like these genuinely believe they're following at a safe distance - it's more a case of them just following the traffic in front in auto-pilot mode, so when something happens causing a massive sudden stop, they've got no chance.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

Understood, Duncan, but in road driving the unexpected happens to those who are not expecting it.
Nigel Albright

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I have always considered driving a car like the dodgems that I liked on the Pleasure Beach in Blackpool. I made space for myself, anticipated danger and stayed out of confusion and many a collision as a result. I generally tried to avoid an accident and did as much free driving as I could. However many others just wanted to bump into others and thought it fun.

That's how I see the roads nowadays. A lot of people having fun and driving into each other and whilst they are intent upon having collisions I go on my merry way. We should make space, maybe space is what we all want. With more space between vehicles more can be seen, more can be avoided and more can have a safer journey.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

The great Donald Norman, author of "The Design of Everyday Things", has noted the two characteristics of unexpected events: first, they always occur, and second, when they do occur, they are always unexpected.

Nigel is nonplussed as to why so many people agree with this statement, yet it is one of the fundamentals for understanding system safety. Pretty well all accidents are caused when one or both of the parties involved suffers from a prediction failure and the subsequent surprises that these failures generate.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

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Absolutely, Bob. I have always said that if you want to remain safe you trust no one until they prove they can be trusted - (motor)bike or car.
Nigel Albright

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I think the "Disagrees" to Hugh's first comment were the result of too little information within the post leading to people making differing interpretations of what he meant. As Hugh and others have elaborated on their thinking - and about 2, 3, 4 or 5 second distances - the level of "Agrees" has increased. Just a matter of communication, not an indication of anything widely amiss.
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

I always anticipate the worst in drivers but then I ride a motorcycle more that drive a car during the week so I have to look after myself and my own safety. On a motorcycle, with a safety attitude on the road and resultant objectivity, one can see many of the faults of other drivers and anticipate the relative dangers.

I would rather give safe space between me and any other road users, and by doing that it gives people (and me) time to see and react to potential dangers. Unfortunately others do not drive or ride the same way and are oblivious to the changes and potential dangers that occur whilst on the road - unless they are taught, and use that knowledge. If someone comes between me and my safe space I back off. If I can't overtake I back off. If someone is tailgating me I back off. I give distance all the time. It's a bit like the tortoise and the hare. My riding is defensive other driving is not.
Bob craven Lancs

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Thanks, Hugh. I suppose that is re-assuring, in a way. But conversely I am equally staggered at the number of positive comments generated by Duncan MacKillop's comment about unable to anticipate 'unforeseen circumstances', which suggests the majority of people have never gone further than the standard driving test. The clues are always there... If I had a crash I could not go to my peers and say, 'I didn't see it coming'.
Nigel Albright

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I suspect the 'disagrees' are not from readers necessarily actively involved with road safety. If they are, well I'm worried too.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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I have to say it never ceases to amaze me (looking at the negative comments to my submission below) the number of people actively involved in road safety who do not accept that the fundamental principle for drivers and riders in being safe on the road is in HC 126. Just remember, if you will, that in the M5 crash at Taunton (as one example) 7 people were killed, 51 others were injured and 27 vehicles were involved - and all because the vast majority of drivers could not stop in time.
Nigel Albright

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I would agree with Olly but extend it to include thinking about the vehicles coming up behind, those in the lanes beside you, what they are are catching up, whether (particulary at night) you can see any haze on distant lights. Plus your instruments, engine sound, wheel noise and vehicle vibration. I bet I have missed out a few.
Mark, Caerphilly

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Shunts are not the biggest issue on m/ways, many collisions are lane changing and late exits. All the attention seems to be on the gap, when the focus should be on looking ahead beyond the car in front and the one in front of that. Driving plans. The bigger issue for me is inattention, mobile phones being a big distraction hands free or not. Defensive driving not just gaps.
Olly, Lancs

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I would rather lane hog the middle and leave the outer lane to the Darwin award candidates.
David Matthews Northamptonshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (14)

Hugh Jones is, of course, quite right. And yet he has received 12 negative comments against 1 positive - and this from people actively involved in road safety? Police driving schools used to recommend a following distance of 3-4 seconds, bearing in mind that the 2 second rule is a recommended minimum in Highway Code. And that's not just on motorways - it's anywhere.
Nigel Albright

Agree (6) | Disagree (5)

BRAKE is on to something here which, if pushed further could make a major contribution to road safety. Only when people become accountable for their behaviour will they change. And in road safety terms that factor is being prosecuted. 30% of crashes are front to rear shunts. Highway Code 126 says you must be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear. And at the front of Highway Code is the comment that any part of it could be used to substantiate a case in court. So prosecuting anyone whose vehicle hits the back of another will send out a major ripple for drivers to take ownership of their own safety and in one fell swoop will reduce the crash rate by up to 30%. But when will road safety policy makers get the handle on this?
Nigel Albright

Agree (5) | Disagree (6)

Please remember the 2 second rule is only a guide.

If your tyres or brakes are not as good as the car in front you will not stop in time. If you have only the minimum tread depth of 1.6mm and the vehicle in front has over 3.0mm, in an emergency you will hit it at high speed and suffer serious damage and possibly injury or death. I prefer to leave a 3 second gap, particularly if (travelling at) over 50mph - that way I can stop in relative comfort for me and my passengers. If someone fills that gap OK so be it, I may arrive at my destination a few seconds late but at least I shall get there. Also, the 2 second gap is more effective over 40mph than under 40mph.
Don Harris. Bexhill

Agree (5) | Disagree (3)

I understood that the 2 second rule was intended to cover the time needed to realise that it is necessary to stop plus the time to hit the brake pedal with something reasonable to spare. All, as Bob says, on the assumption that your car can stop as rapidly as the vehicle in front, which is normally the case. On that basis the spacing is independent of speed, despite stopping distance being proportional to the square of the speed.

All of which would be fine and reasonable - except that most drivers leave less than one second gap at 70mph, and the really dangerous ones less than that, e.g, one car length, 16 feet and 0.2 seconds.

An immovable object in the carriageway such as an overturned HGV is another matter entirely. At 70mph, 103 ft per second and braking distance of 350 ft, gaps of 5 seconds would be necessary and would seriously reduce motorway capacity.

That is why anticipation, looking ahead not at speedometers, and steering are more important in those circumstances than braking.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (12) | Disagree (4)

When I drive on a motorway with what I consider a safe stopping distance in front of me I find that many other motorists fill that gap from an inside lane. If I then draw back from them someone else will fill the gap. Need for a lot of education here.
Bobbio Chiswell Green

Agree (15) | Disagree (2)

Yes, but what is a safe stopping distance?. How long is a piece of string? If you ask 60 people you will get 60 different answers and yet there is only one. The answer should be where you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear and without going over the other side of the road. But what does that mean in real terms of distance? Absolutely nothing.

Therefore the only distance one can conceive of being safe, as said previously, varies with the relative speeds of the vehicles in front ie the greater the speed the greater that distance needs to be.

The HC simplifies that and basically makes the stopping distance the same as the speed travelled per 2 second rule and as said up to 40 mph it works. A lot of people assume that its safe to be fairly close to the vehicle in front as they mistakenly believe that that car will actually brake and thus they can match that braking distance so they only need to be what may be considered the thinking distance behind. ie 6/10th of a second.

When I point out that that is not so, and if the vehicle in front came to an immediate stop without braking, they then realise that they have been thinking about it all wrong.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (9) | Disagree (4)

A safe stopping distance only remains safe so long as nothing impinges on it, but most accidents happen when something or somebody does unexpectedly end up in that previously allocated space.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (12) | Disagree (1)

Thanks for agreeing Bob. What I also find slightly annoying is that organisations like Brake, whilst well-meaning, tend to come out with statements without really thinking about their validity, as if they're merely repeating what is presumed to be correct. I've seen 3, 4 and even 5 second gaps recommended as being the minimum elsewhere, but as you say, it depends at what speed (and lots of other factors as well) which is why quoting a specific number is not a good idea. "Maintain a safe stopping distance" works just as well as a message.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (7) | Disagree (9)

The two second rule is not known by the majority of motorists and only applies in good weather with dry roads and at urban speeds. It was basically designed for 30 and 40mph where the stopping distance isn't greater than the distance over a two second period.

However, all advanced drivers/riders are aware that over those speeds the two second rule doesn't apply and should be increased so at, say, 70 mph where the HC says the stopping distance is 315ft the actual distance travelled at 70 mph is 105 ft per sec. So if one left a three second gap it would mean travelling 315ft - just enough time and distance to stop in, all being well.

Actually the marker posts on the inside of the motorway on the verge just happen to be 100 metres apart or just about the 315ft combined braking distance. So, if in the nearside lane and doing 70mph one should be a marker post behind the vehicle in front.
Bob Craven, Lancs

Agree (7) | Disagree (5)

I notice that on the Good Morning Britain ITV program this morning there was the unimpressive sight of someone who supposedly cares about road safety conducting a television interview whilst driving at speed on a congested motorway. Does anyone else see the contradiction?
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (18) | Disagree (1)

I think 'two-second rule' is part of the problem. If anyone tries to adhere to this at high speeds their safety margin will be practically nil. Who came up with it in the first place?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (20)