What I Learned: Don’t Tailgate

I didn’t get in a car accident — let me start by saying that.

And I typically recommend avoiding all forms of road rage, tailgating being one of them.

I was driving home from dinner Wednesday night. I had met a couple friends at a restaurant that was maybe 10 miles away, which isn’t that far, but enough to travel on several highways between the restaurant and my house. I’d safely made it across two of the highways and was exiting onto the third when a person (I’m assuming he was a guy; I have no real reason to assume this — that’s just my stereotypical assumption) in an old Bronco swerved in front of me to make the same exit I was taking. This guy was driving probably 10-15 mph under the speed limit, so he could have easily waited for me to fly by him (ha, OK, I was seriously only going 3 mph over the speed limit). Anyway, he continued being 10-15 mph slower than he needed to be while taking the exit ramp and then merging onto the next highway.

I wouldn’t say I was totally tailgating, but I was definitely closer than the two-second-rule of spacing.

Once we get onto the highway and it’s safe to pass, I do so, and I do so quickly because I’m so annoyed with him that I want to put as much distance between us as possible. When it comes time for me to exit the highway and head onto residential roads, I can see that he’s doing the same thing. “No big deal,” I think. This area of town is mostly residential and tons of people take this same route to access all the houses. When I take my next turn, he does too. I again try to reassure myself that I’m entering an even more densely populated area, so chances are still high that he’s heading toward a house nearby.

I should also say that the distance between us was enough that he was about a block behind me, but his headlights were fairly distinctive, so I could tell — even at a distance — who it was.

I’m finally nearing my own neighborhood. He’s quite a ways behind me at this point, so I feel like I’m in the clear. As I enter my neighborhood, I decide to go a little slower, just to see if he’s still following me. I also wanted to know because I planned to drive past my own house if I realized he was still following me.

HE WAS STILL FOLLOWING ME.

“OK, you live in a big neighborhood — he could live around here or be visiting someone,” I told myself. So when I neared my house, I just kept driving. I went all the way through my neighborhood, then turned onto a busy road and then turned back into my neighborhood. I saw him turn onto the same busy road to follow me, so I immediately called Dan to tell him what was happening.

I’m lucky it was horribly cold that night and that no one was out and about walking around on the streets. I was shaking because I was so nervous, while trying to recount the situation to Dan on my cell phone and peering in my rear-view mirror repeatedly to see where my follower was.

This time when I turned back into my neighborhood, he didn’t follow. I drove really slowly before getting to my house, again to confirm that he was not following me and therefore wouldn’t know where I lived. I opened the garage door, pulled my vehicle into the stall faster than I’ve ever done it, closed the garage door while I was still finalizing my position, then ran into the house once I shut off the car. I don’t think I stopped shaking until after I’d fallen asleep. Which took forever, by the way, because I started running through scenarios of what I would have done if he had followed me into my neighborhood a second time.

Dan’s recommendation was to keep driving, and this time head toward the police station, which is about a mile away. Dan said he would have gotten in his truck to follow me and the creepster, while I would call 911 to explain the situation and hope they’d welcome me into their parking lot and chase off the bad guy. What I was actually hoping would happen is that I’d call 911 en route, and the 911 dispatcher would tell me there just happened to be a cop even closer to where I was and I could just pull up right next to him and he’d save me. I went through a bunch of other scenarios where hiccups in my plan occurred and I had to think of other solutions, but this post isn’t about how paranoid I am, it’s about learning a lesson.

So my advice is that even if you’re following a SUPER ANNOYINGLY SLOW driver, there’s no use in tailgating (or closely following) them. They won’t speed up, they won’t feel bad for cutting you off or preventing you from going the speed you want to go. I would almost tell you that the decrease in speed probably won’t make a difference in the grand scheme of life, but I highly believe in wrong place/wrong time situations, so it would be hypocritical of me to say that any delay — even something between 5 and 90 seconds — is irrelevant.

Instead, your tailgating/close-following behavior will probably just set them off, and they might choose to follow you through multiple residential neighborhoods on a dark, frigidly cold night and scare the crap out of you.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I hope you have too. Don’t tailgate. Oh, and don’t drive annoyingly slow.

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5 thoughts on “What I Learned: Don’t Tailgate

  1. I’ve had something similar happen to me. I know how scared you must have felt. It’s so scary to think what some people are capable of. Love how you ended this. No tail gating and no driving annoyingly slowly!!!!

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