After a recent scare with some tailgating truck drivers, both on my bike and in my car, I wanted to get this article completed. In both instances, I was doing the posted speed limit, but that is not always good enough.
Lately, I’ve noticed more and more tailgating and when viewed from a distance when a bigger vehicle is unnecessarily honing down on a smaller vehicle, it looks no different to school-yard bullying.
Having insufficient reaction time and distance between vehicles, to avoid an impact.
The majority of riders/drivers underestimate the distance needed to stop a vehicle. Being unaware of your surroundings, including what’s happening in front of who is in front of you, can be a fatal error of judgement.
I can’t nag enough how important this is to understand. Do. Not. Tailgate!
Leave two to three seconds, at least, between you and the vehicle in front… more if it’s dark or non-perfect road and weather conditions. Yes, even on the freeways and amongst city traffic, when not lane filtering. “Oh, but cars always push into the gap…” I hear you say.
So? Let them. Just move back a couple of seconds again.
Hold the safest position in your lane and keep your own gap, even if it means moving back a bit.
Think about this… Coffs Harbour to Newcastle, 385 km, approximately a four-hour drive, or on a motorbike, let’s say about five hours… so we can stop to fuel, pee and have a bit of a gander… or hey do it in four hours; either makes no difference here.
Say between Coffs and Newcastle you have 40 vehicles pushing in front of you when you’re sitting two to three seconds back from the vehicle in front… damn, that means you’d have to throttle off a little bit, 40 times and back up a couple of seconds. At the end of that little road trip, technically, you have taken about one and a half minutes longer on the road and you’d get to be a more active rider, by using that throttle more… I’ve yet to hear a motorcyclist complain about that!
Put in context, slowing down to check out a view, manoeuvre around potholes and detours, maybe an unexpected stop to don a rain jacket… really in the big scheme of things, does that minute and a half affect the time you’re going to get to Newcastle in a major way, since there will be unplanned interruptions anyway?
You would be likely to make up time, because sitting back from vehicles, you have a clearer view in front of them and of oncoming traffic.
There’s no braking up their butt after they’ve braked at something you can’t see, there’s no risk of decapitation when checking for oncoming vehicles, you’ve plenty of room to avoid that dead roo, they’ve just spat out behind them. Then you’ll either get all the red or all the green traffic lights coming into the city, or you could be held up or sped up, many other different ways… so why risk becoming a statistic by tailgating?
Take a moment to think of your riding/driving habits. Next time you’re on the road, in control of a motor vehicle, spot a fixed object on the side of the road that the vehicle in front has just past… then count, one thousand and one, one thousand and two… one thousand and three… there is your two-three seconds. If you are at that spot on the second or third thousand, then you are exceptionally awesome!
I always sit at least two, to three seconds back, whether I’m riding or driving. I guess because I was licensed for a motorcycle before a car, I’ve always done that.
I feel mighty uncomfortable if I’m sitting in a passenger seat with my nose nearly up the vehicle in front’s bumper!
Too many times I’ve had something spat backwards of vehicles in front of me, once a big chunk of steel bounced out from under a B-Double, which would have got me right in the face if I’d been tailgating.
Oh yes and I’ve also heard the bit about getting into the slipstream of the vehicle in front… hahahahahahaaaa like seriously? You’re on a motorcycle. You don’t need to be in someone else’s slipstream.
More drivers than not, tailgate. Most of the people I know, tailgate.
…even when they’re riding their motorcycle. Again… Do. Not. Tailgate!
If you’re being tailgated
It is absolutely within your control to maintain that two to three-second buffer zone to give you a reaction time and a better chance of avoiding any hazards.
However, what’s not controlled by you is the distance between you and a following vehicle.
And that is where it can get really scary, especially on two wheels.
As in the recent scares I had, I was maintaining the posted speed. If I felt safe going faster, I would have, believe me and would have told the copper, if I’d been done, why I was speeding.
In both instances, the road surface was crud, bumpy, holes and because it was also drizzling, extremely slippery. I was freaking out, being pushed to sit at the speed I was. On the motorcycle, the final choice I had, was to pull over… as I couldn’t safely hold that position with the truck so close behind me.
There’re a few things you can do before that though if you are being tailgated and you’re not feeling safe.
Check your speed
Sometimes the throttle has moved, altering the speed, so you may be holding up traffic. If you can, get back up to the speed limit, maybe a quick spirt to get ahead quicker and away from the following vehicle would help initially.
If you’re a newbie and not comfortable with the posted speed, then an alternate route may be better for you until your confidence is there. If you’re having bike trouble, then put on your hazard lights and indicate your intentions to pull over.
Confidence with Lane Position
No matter what road you’re on, remember to try and hold your lane position where safe and possible. On a single carriageway, that is what is commonly known as the driver’s position, as in where a driver of a four wheeled vehicle would be seated, driving. On a multiple carriageway, stay in the driver’s position unless you are in the far-right lane, where you should sit in the passenger position. This is so when others legally pass you, you are in the safest position of the lane. This also gives you the best visual advantages of seeing what is ahead.
If the traffic is stationary at some stage or very slow and you’re able to lane filter, then do do to get away from the danger.
Seeing what’s ahead, helps you prepare for braking, so you’re not bumped from behind.
If you or your bike can’t confidently and comfortably sit on the freeway or highway speeds, then it is strongly suggested an alternate route is found.
Sometimes on freeways the traffic goes faster than the speed limit, so find yourself a safe gap in the traffic and either go with the flow or choose the slower lane. Freeway traffic kinda has its own mentality and I try and stay right away… it reminds me of people playing a vicious computer game.
Encourage them to just go ahead
Here’s a bizarre thought, which mostly works… if you increase the distance, you are following a vehicle, it often inspires your tailgater to pass you because they can see themselves in the next gap ahead…
Get out of their way
If all else fails, then like I’ve had to do a few times now, pull over and get out of their way. Easier said than done though.
There’s not always a clear area or side-road to do so and like the last time, I had to make sure the truck driver was well aware of my intentions. With him almost on my pillion seat, I used my left arm initially, in a no-nonsense manner, to indicate for him to back off and to slow down and that I intended to pull over.
Then I touched my brakes multiple times and slowed down very slowly… watching him in the rear-view mirror to make sure he wasn’t about to run me over.
I was literally sitting on about 400 mm of roadside and he passed without even moving over a little.
Not all tailgaters are being mean, some just drive that way because they have not been taught any different, but unfortunately, as motorcyclists, we are at the mercy of them and other malicious and aggressive road users, who are putting our lives at risk. So many are also on drugs or alcohol, so there’s no reasoning with them.
Just check your ego, keep your cool in moments like these, choose the safest way that you are confident with and get out of the situation as smoothly as possible.
The above are tips from knowledge, personal choice and years of experience, but always remember to ride your own ride.
I do not encourage anyone to break the law or ride out of their comfort zone.
Make wise decisions and think safety first.
By Katarina Dálaigh