Ask a Trooper

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2002

QUESTION: Is tailgating illegal? What should I do when a car is tailgating me, because it makes me very nervous?

ANSWER: Yes, tailgating is illegal, and for a very good reason -- it is very dangerous. I always thought some aspects of operating a multi-thousand-pound vehicle hurtling down the roadway were obvious. You don't need a university degree to inherently understand some of the basic laws of physics such as momentum and inertia. Yet many people drive as if they weren't programed with those perceptions. This is what keeps tow truck operators, insurance companies and hospitals in business.

People who enjoy displaying their vehicles grill emblem in other people's rear view mirror apparently lack the basic ability to perceive how their momentum would instantly propel them into the other car's backseat if that driver had to hit the brakes. Yet these drivers cannot always be dismissed as physics-challenged -- sometimes it is a dangerous form of intimidation.

Alaska's traffic code (13AAC 02.090 (a)) says "A driver of a motor vehicle may not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent and at least two seconds behind the vehicle being followed, having regard for the traffic upon the roadway and the condition of the roadway."

When I was learning to drive, the "rule of thumb" was keep at least one full vehicle length for every 10 mph you are traveling between you and the vehicle ahead. Double that on slippery roads. Even more simply put, if the driver ahead of you suddenly slams on the brakes and you can't avoid hitting him, you are following too close.

As far as how to handle that tailgater, I suggest lightly tapping your brake pedal just enough to flash the tail lights as a signal to back off. If that doesn't work, just pull off the roadway as soon as practical and let the fool speed on. It is not worth the road rage.

If you have questions you would like to ask a trooper, send them to Alaska State Troopers, P.O. Box 817, Seward, AK 99664, or e-mail them to

The Alaska State Troopers remind you to always wear your seat belt. It's the law.

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