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Terrified of Tailgating: UK drivers locked in fear of space invaders on the road

You might be well within your rights to perform an illegal driving manoeuvre - such as breaking the speed limit - if confronted by a tailgater, according to experts.

Having a vehicle too close to your rear bumper and driving aggressively is on a hitlist of UK motorists biggest pet hates - and worst fears.

Highways England says one in eight of all road casualties are caused by people driving too close to the vehicle in front.

And if you resort to breaking the speed limit in an attempt to get away from someone driving too close behind you, you could be able to use ‘avoiding a tailgater’ as a ‘special reasons’ argument in court.

That’s according to Emma Patterson, Principal Solicitor at specialist motoring offence lawyers Patterson Law.

She explains: “We deal with a number of these cases every year in similar circumstances. And it is not as uncommon as you might think.

“Simply put, on occasions the court will agree that there are special reasons for not imposing penalty points or discretionary disqualification based on somebody tailgating the offending driver, and them needing to speed up briefly in order to extricate themselves from a potentially dangerous situation.

“It flows from a guilty plea, as part of the sentencing exercise, and empowers the magistrates not to give penalty points or discretionary disqualification.”

A recent survey by leading UK car leasing firm Select Car Leasing found that a third of motorists - 32 per cent - claimed that ‘drivers driving too close behind me’ was their biggest road-related fear.

And if you do end being caught breaking the speed limit because you’re running scared of a tailgater, you need to convince the court you had no other alternative than to put your foot down.

Emma explains: “We can argue ‘special reasons’ to avoid penalty points or disqualification in similar circumstances - whether that involves another driver or an unmarked police vehicle doing the ‘tailgating’.

“A special reasons argument is like a mini-trial in relation to sentencing.

“It has to relate to why the offence occurred, rather than mitigating circumstances in relation to the individual’s personal predicament or need to be able to drive.

“Special reasons also need to be established by the defendant on the balance of probabilities.

“If the magistrates agree that there are special reasons then they will not impose any penalty points or discretionary disqualification.

“And these arguments tend to succeed better when there is no alternative. It is all about convincing the court that this was the only way they could extricate themselves from a potentially dangerous situation.

“If it would have been just as easy for the offender to pull into another lane to avoid the tailgater, then special reasons won’t be found.”

Emma says you might be able to argue a similar defence if you break the speed limit briefly in order to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle.

Meanwhile Mark Tongue of Select Car Leasing says the guidance could offer reassurance to the millions of motorists who are often caught like a rabbit in the headlights when faced with an aggressive tailgater.

He said: “This isn’t about giving carte blanche to motorists so that they can break the speed limit at the first sign of an approaching car.

“But it is reassuring to know that the courts do recognise just how intimidating tailgating can be, and that they also recognise that a motorist might wish to take evasive action in order to get away from the offender and rid themselves of a potentially life-threatening situation.

“Knowing that it can be reasonable to break the law, albeit briefly, so you can move into a different lane, may give some shred of comfort to the millions of motorists blighted by these so-called ‘space invaders’.”

Punishments for tailgating range from a £100 fine and three penalty points, to a driving ban and even a prison sentence if the tailgating causes an accident.

The Highway Code states that you should leave a two-second gap between cars. The two seconds are made up of the time needed for thinking and stopping. And when it’s raining, that gap should be at least doubled.

Highways England also launched a ‘Space Invaders’ campaign last year, urging motorists to take greater care with their stopping distances.

A spokesperson said at the time: “We know that if you get too close to the car in front, you won’t be able to react and stop in time if they brake suddenly.

“Tailgating also makes the driver in front feel targeted and victimised, distracting their attention from the road ahead and making them more likely to make a mistake.

“If that leads to a collision, then people in both vehicles could end up seriously injured or dead.”

“We want everyone to travel safely, so the advice is - stay safe, stay back.”

Worryingly, tailgating is widespread across the UK.

An independent poll of 1,200 motorists conducted by Select Car Leasing, via OnePoll, found almost one in ten - 8 percent of men and 6 percent of women - said they’d deliberately tailgated as an act of ‘revenge’, because the rival motorist had ‘behaved poorly’ towards them.

Meanwhile 7 percent of women and 6 percent of men admitted to accidentally tailgating without realising they were doing it.

Overall, a third - 34 percent - thought that tailgating had become more of an issue in the UK in recent years than in previous eras, and was symptomatic of more aggressive driver behaviour in general.

Mark Tongue of Select Car Leasing adds: “Tailgating is disrespectful and downright dangerous.

“The fact that you can sometimes break the law in order to escape a tailgater illustrates just how terrifying it can be for a great many drivers.

“And if you’re guilty of doing it yourself, you need to take a long, hard look at your behaviour behind the wheel.”

Established in 2004, Select Car Leasing is one of the UK's largest independent specialists for car leasing as well as commercial and van leasing.

Data Source: Independent primary research study conducted by One Poll of 1,200 UK drivers for Select Car Leasing

Which of the following apply to you?

I have tailgated other drivers without realising I'm doing it - 7 per cent

I have tailgated people on purpose after they behaved poorly towards me on the road. - 7 per cent

I am finding other drivers are tailgating much more often these days. - 34 per cent

No matter how big or small they are, what driving-related fears do you have?   

Drivers driving too close behind me/tailgating me -  32 per cent

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Tuesday, 02/08/2022