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Have you ever glanced in your rear-view mirror to find the driver behind you was following so closely that he appeared to be sitting in the back seat of your car? Tailgaters cause accidents, and you can usually catch a glimpse of the average garden-variety tailgater at any time, any day and on any roadway. Tailgating is an aggressive driving behavior easily mistaken for road rage.

The dictionary defines tailgating as “to drive dangerously close behind another vehicle.” It also defines “accident” as “an unexpected and undesirable event, a mishap unforeseen and without apparent cause.” Ironically, most auto accidents are not accidents at all — they are collisions that could and should have been avoided. And in this category are the approximately 2.5 million rear-end collisions that take place each year.

Safe Following Distance

Most rear-end collisions are caused by the vehicle in back following too closely. During daylight with good, dry roads and low traffic volume, you can ensure you’re a safe distance from the car ahead of you by following the “Three-Second Rule.” Making sure there are three seconds between you and the car ahead gives you the time and distance to respond to problems in the lane ahead of you. In heavy traffic, at night, or when weather conditions are not ideal, double the three seconds to six seconds for added safety.

Merging

We do a lot of lane-merging today — on entrance and exit ramps, where three lanes become two, or two become one — yet many drivers fail to yield at merge points. That triangular sign means what it says. It doesn’t mean hit the gas, come to a complete stop, or muscle your way into traffic. If there is no yield sign, the rules of the road dictate that cars entering a roadway always yield to those on the roadway. Always remember to maintain a safety cushion of distance between yourself and other vehicles to avoid vehicle collisions.

Safety Cushions Can Save Lives

Always expect the unexpected. Be prepared for a child or pet to dart into the street, a piece of furniture to fall off a truck or a drunk driver to suddenly weave in front of your car. Give yourself room to brake or, better yet, maneuver your way around an emergency. Keep a constant vigil for escape routes, such as a break in traffic, an off-ramp, a wide median, or the road’s shoulder.

To Pass or Not to Pass

Whenever you’re in doubt about whether you can pass safely, don’t try it. Keep right except to pass. And when you pass, do so in a smooth, progressive manner, and move back to the right lane as soon as you can clearly see the car in your rear-view mirror. Don’t “slingshot” around other vehicles and don’t violate another vehicle’s safety zone as that could lead to a trip to the autobody shop.

If someone wants to pass you, don’t speed up to make it more difficult or impossible. Pass only on the left. Passing on the right is against the law in some places and is dangerous because you are less visible to other drivers. Never use the shoulder to skirt traffic, and never, ever try to back up on the shoulder if you have missed your exit ramp or turn.