Is Tailgating Illegal in Washington State?

Yes. According to Washington State law, it’s illegal to tailgate. Tailgating is when one driver follows another car too closely. This risky driving behavior increases the chance of a rear-end collision.

Let’s look at why this law exists, the dangers of tailgating, and what you should do if you notice another car is following you too closely.

Washington State Law about Tailgating

Here’s what our current law (RCW 46.61.145) has to say about tailgating:

The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon the condition of the highway.

Notice that there’s no clear definition of how close is too close. Instead, the law expects drivers to be “reasonable and prudent.” Also, drivers may need to adjust their spacing in certain situations. For example, a careful driver would allow more space when traveling 60 miles per hour on the freeway versus 20 miles per hour in a school zone. Weather conditions, such as ice, also call for more distance between cars.

A patrol officer can assess a ticket to a driver who violates this law.

Why Tailgating is Dangerous

Chances are, we’ve all had the experience of glancing in the rearview mirror to note a driver following too close for comfort. This situation is more than merely annoying; it’s dangerous. Tailgating is an aggressive maneuver that puts others’ safety at risk.

There are two primary dangers when it comes to tailgating.

  1. Increased chance for rear-end collisions. The tailgater may not have enough time to respond if the car ahead needs to brake quickly.
  2. Potential road rage trigger. Driving antics like tailgating can set off the wrong person at just the wrong time. Emotions can escalate, and additional poor decisions can follow.

Tailgating is often associated with another risky driving behavior: speeding. A speeding vehicle is more difficult to control and more likely to inflict serious injury in a crash. In fact, 17% of all fatal crashes in 2019 involved a speeding driver.

Steps to Take if Another Car is Following You Too Close

So, what steps should you take the next time you find yourself in this unfortunate situation? Here are a few tips for handling a tailgating vehicle:

  1. Stay calm. Above all, work to keep your emotions in check. Take a deep breath.
  2. Focus on your driving. This is the time to turn off the radio and pause the conversation with your passenger. Until the situation is resolved, you’ll need complete focus on the road.
  3. Slow your speed. This is best done by easing off of your gas pedal, or you might lightly press your brakes. But avoid excessively tapping your brakes or slamming on them to “teach the other driver a lesson.” This rarely works. In fact, it may further provoke the other driver.
  4. Move out of the way. If you’re able, move to the right lane or turn off into a parking lot or side street.
  5. Avoid speeding up. You might be tempted to speed up, thinking that this will solve the issue. However, what often happens is that the tailgater also increases their speed, preserving the same narrow spacing. Additionally, you may now be pressing too closely forward to vehicles in front of you.

Above all, your goal should be to either move out of the way at your soonest opportunity or make yourself “passable” to the driver behind you.

Yes, we understand that it may be frustrating to feel like the tailgater “won” and got their way. However, we think it’s better to be safe than right. If you have the ability to avoid a collision, you should do so. Make sure to read our advice on How to Handle an Aggressive Driver for more ideas on this topic.

Avoid Becoming a Tailgater Yourself

It’s easy to think everyone else is a bad driver. After all, AAA once conducted a study which revealed that 73% of respondents thought of themselves as above average drivers. But always pointing a finger at the other guy means we’re excusing ourselves from some valuable self-reflection.

Here are a few ways to stay safe:

  • Leave early – you’ll be less tempted to speed
  • Drive well rested
  • Do not drive distracted
  • Give cars extra space if there’s inclement weather
  • Drive in a predictable, courteous way

These good driving behaviors could help prevent accidents as well as tickets from traffic violations, like tailgating.

When Tailgating Results in a Rear-End Collision

Have you been rear-ended by someone who was tailgating? If so, then you’ve been the victim of an entirely preventable collision. Remember, tailgating is illegal in Washington – and for good reason.

Our car accident lawyers have years of experience helping injured victims pursue fair compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering. There is no cost to speak with one of our lawyers to learn more. Let us know if we can help.

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