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Tricks to Stop Tailgating Drivers Can Backfire

By Ron Shaffer
Thursday, October 7, 2004; Page AA16

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding tailgaters: I recently entered Annapolis from Washington, driving in the far left lane. I knew I was going too fast (70 mph) but was hemmed in by a semi to my immediate right going the same speed and a tailgater who seemed to be just inches off my bumper.

Though both were making me a little nervous, I tried to stay calm and relaxed -- so much so that I noticed that my windshield was dirty and chose that time to run the windshield washer.

It was when the wipers on the brown car behind me came on that I remembered that that's a method people use for discouraging tailgaters. Just as I was thinking, well, that's not how I meant it, but if it works . . . a blue light on his dash came on, and I was pulled over for speeding by a state trooper driving an unmarked car!

Fortunately, I was given only a warning, though I deserved the ticket. But I'm sure that if I hadn't put on my washer, he'd have simply blown by me when I had a chance to pull over. Oh, well. . . .

Pamela Miller


Lesson learned. Dr. Gridlock does not advise putting on wipers or feigning brake lights to discourage the tailgater, but putting on the right turn signal and getting over as soon as possible. You don't want to get involved further with a tailgater. You just want him gone.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In the 1970s, in a busy Chicago morning rush hour, I was tailgated by some guy in a pickup. I did the turn-on-the-headlights trick to make him back off.

He did, but reacted by hitting his brakes hard. Thinking about it later, I realized I had almost caused an accident because his overreaction easily could have resulted in a chain reaction series of collisions.

I motored on, thinking justice had been done. A mile or so later, on an expressway off-ramp, the pickup roared up, passed me on the left shoulder and did a perfect "cop stop," throwing his car in front of mine and making me stop.

The driver got out, screaming and cursing, and proceeded to kick in the side of my car (an almost-brand-new Honda at the time). He did that for about a minute, got back in his truck and left.

There were no cell phones then, but if that happened today, we could call the police or videotape it and report it. But likewise back then, we hadn't yet heard of drivers shooting at other drivers, of people being killed in traffic altercations. He beat up my car, not me.

If someone is tailgating, let them go by. Justice will come their way eventually, be it a cop, a pothole or something.

My experience might be the exception, but it certainly could have ended far uglier than it did. Why risk it for the sake of a momentary sense of victory?

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