A new study conducted by the Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety (CARRS-Q) has found that one-in two drivers are failing to keep a safe following distance – but those tailgaters say queue-jumpers are to blame.
Tailgating has been identified as the leading cause of rear-end collisions – no surprise there – with QUT surveying more than 500 drivers on their perceptions of driving behaviour and their knowledge of safe following distance.
Additionally, Queensland state road crash data was used to pinpoint rear-end crash blackspots, while on-road monitoring was used to determine driving conditions, speed and tailgating.
“For the first time, tailgating has been conclusively linked with rear-end crashes, but we also identified queue jumping as the main reason for not keeping a safe distance,” said Dr Sebastien Demmel, co-author of the report.
“Drivers blamed queue-jumpers for tailgating, they wanted to avoid another driver cutting in front of them Despite drivers perceiving they are following at a safe distance, our on-road data showed that in reality most don’t leave the recommended two to three second gap,” he added.
A two-second gap is considered a safe distance, even in peak-hour traffic. However, more than half of drivers surveyed are failing to do this.
“Fifty-five per cent of drivers were found to leave less than a two-second gap between them and the vehicle in front, and 44 per cent less than a one second,” said Demmel.
“There was a higher rate of males and young drivers involved in rear-end crashes, which can be explained by the fact that these inexperienced drivers have been shown to be more likely to adopt risky driving and aggressive behaviours.”
“However, the relative speed difference of vehicles, meaning a slower vehicle followed by a line of faster vehicles, is also a significant predictor of tailgating,” he added.
Another contributing factor to motorists not leaving a safe following distance is the fact many people use estimated distance in metres rather than seconds, which can be more difficult to monitor. The majority of participants also said they kept the same perceived gap regardless of traffic flow or travelling speed.
Demmel said the report makes a number of recommendations to help reduce the prevalence of tailgating – which accounts for one in five crashes on Queensland roads – with education and consistent messaging about the importance of a safe following distance likely to be the most effective.
Technology was identified as another preventative measure, such as variable messaging signs telling drivers they are following too close, along with in-vehicle devices such as tailgating alert systems.
“Eventually, automated vehicles have the potential to revolutionise our roads and reduce rear-end crashes,” Demmel added.