What should I do if someone is tailgating my car? Is it legal? Here’s the Washington law

Everyone has pet peeves on the road, from being cut off to dealing with slow drivers in the left lane. But if there’s one thing that drivers find universally aggravating, it’s being tailgated.

It’s frustrating to have a car following you too closely, especially on freeways and highways when higher speeds make the action even more dangerous. Additionally, it’s more common to get pulled over for speeding than for tailgating, leaving drivers wondering how to respond to the situation.

So, what does the law say about tailgating on Washington roadways?

WA driver guide on tailgating

The state driver guide has a very clear policy: “Do not tailgate.”

Tailgating reduces other drivers’ ability to see you clearly and make informed decisions on the road, according to the guide. This alone makes it an especially dangerous way to drive.

One of the most important aspects of road safety is space between vehicles. The Washington State Driver Guide emphasizes how to maintain the safest amount of space.

“The more distance you keep between yourself and everyone else, the more time you have to react in an emergency,” states the driver guide. “This space is like a safety cushion. The more time you have, the safer it can be.”

You want about four seconds of distance between your vehicle and those directly behind and in front of you. You’ll want to add extra distance in riskier road conditions, like when the roads are slippery, when behind a large vehicle like a semi-truck or camper, when on a hill and other scenarios.

According to publicly available crash data from the Washington State Patrol, there were more than 15,000 collisions involving a vehicle following too closely in 2021, the latest data available.

What to do when being tailgated

What if you’re the one being tailgated? Then how do you maintain space?

First, you should check your own speed. If you are driving slower than the speed limit or general traffic flow, pull over when there are five cars behind you and allow them to pass, according to the driver guide.

If you feel like the person behind you is driving aggressively, make sure you remain calm before reacting. The Department of Licensing recommends “taking a deep breath and moving out of the way” when challenged by another driver.

The recommended responses depend on the roadway. If there is an available lane to your right, calmly move over when it is safe to do so.

If there is no lane to your right, wait until there is space ahead for the tailgater to pass. Then, slowly reduce your speed, encouraging the other driver to go around you. It is crucial that you decrease your speed slowly, not abruptly, which would increase the risk of a crash.

If there is no passing lane, it may be safer to pull over momentarily and let them ahead of you.

Or, if you’re concerned about a tailgater’s dangerous driving habits, you can report them to the Washington State Patrol.

To report aggressive driving, WSP asks that you call 911 with the following information:

  • Where you last saw the vehicle

  • The plate number (if possible)

  • The car’s direction of travel

  • The road/highway they’re on

  • Color of the car

  • Incident details