What Does the Law Say About Tailgating in NSW?

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

As drivers, there’s a good chance you’ve found yourself in a situation on the road where you can see that you’re being following too closely by another vehicle.

Generally speaking, this is known as tailgating – where one driver follows another driver without sufficient distance between vehicles, making it impossible to stop if the vehicle ahead stops suddenly.

Tailgating behaviour is not only intimidating, but also heightens the risk of rear-end crashes with the driver having less time to brake.

In fact, according to NSW Police, between 2014 and 2018, almost one quarter of road crashes involved a rear-end collision.

Tailgating is considered a form of anti-social driving and menacing driver behaviour.

More seriously, it is an illegal activity that can cause heavy fines and demerit points.

 

Man Slapped with Eight-Month Driving Ban and $3,000 Fine for Tailgating Ambulance

If you thought the penalties for tailgating were a joke, try this for a painful reality check.

Last year, a Perth man was slammed with an eight-month driving ban and a whopping fine of $3,000 after he was charged by Western Australia Police for tailgating an ambulance.

The 37-year-old was driving through Rockingham when he started to tailgate the ambulance while it was travelling priority with a patient on board who was in a critical condition.

The ambulance had been travelling over 100km/hr.

The man was fined $3,000 and banned from driving for eight months – the sentence is a heavy reminder to all drivers about obeying road rules, particularly those associated emergency vehicles.

 

So, why do Drivers Tailgate Anyway?

Tailgating behaviour can range from being unintentional to aggressive and tremendously dangerous.

Drivers tailgate for a number of reasons. These include:

  • To express disapproval or frustration at being cut off or held up on the road.
  • Protecting their lane from others moving into it.
  • Normalisation of the habit of tailgating – meaning that drivers consider it standard road behaviour and do not see it as dangerous.
  • To slipstream the vehicle in front as they believe they will use less fuel.

All occurrences of tailgating increase danger to all road users and multiply the probability that an accident will happen.

This is largely because tailgating causes a reduction in vision of the road ahead. The closer a driver travels to the vehicle in front, the less they can see. Being able to anticipate and respond are key skills to driving safely and by reducing the amount of road visible to you, you also reduce your ability to anticipate circumstances that could lead to an accident.

 

The Consequences of Tailgating

As the NRMA advises, tailgating is one of the key factors to the most serious common crashes on our roads.

Each year in NSW, more than 10,000 rear-end crashes are reported, with a higher number going unreported because no one is injured.

In fact, according to the RMS, rear-end collisions constitute an astounding 40 percent of all reported crashes when it comes to experienced drivers.

As far as liability goes, if a driver’s vehicle is struck from behind by another vehicle, the ensuing accident is nearly always the fault of the driver who is striking.

This is generally due to drivers being distracted or being prompted by ‘being in a hurry’, in which tailgating is believed to push other drivers out of the way.

The Law on Keeping a Safe Distance Behind Vehicles in NSW

In NSW, it is illegal to tailgate. Indeed, an impatient driver who does so can be distracting, intimidating, and put all road users at risk.

The law on tailgating is in NSW outlined in Rule 126 Road Rules 2014 (NSW), which is referred to as keeping a safe distance behind vehicles.

It states that a driver must drive a sufficient distance behind a vehicle travelling in front of the driver so the driver can, if necessary, stop safely to avoid a collision with the vehicle.

A good driver maintains an appropriate space around their vehicle and ensures a gap of three seconds between their vehicle and the one ahead. This is both a matter of courtesy, but also to allow the driver room to brake safely should they need to stop quickly.

In some extreme cases, if by breaching this rule causes serious injury or even death to a road user it can result in serious charges arising by police, including dangerous driving or negligent driving causing grievous bodily harm or negligent driving occasioning death– attracting penalties of imprisonment and lengthy licence disqualification.

In NSW, the current penalty for tailgating is a $448 fine by way of an on-the-spot fine or penalty notice and 3 demerit points.

Upon receiving this fine, you have the option of paying it which will result in the 3 demerit points on your licence, putting an end to the case. Alternatively, if you wish to dispute it or if you wish to avoid incurring the demerit points, you can court elect the penalty notice.

If you court elect the penalty notice, you will be provided a court date to appear before a Local Court Magistrate where you will be required to then enter either a plea of not guilty or guilty to the allegation.

If found not guilty following a hearing, the matter will get dismissed putting an end to it.

If found guilty or if you plead guilty, the Magistrate will proceed to sentence. Here, the court will hear anything further you wish to say in mitigation to the sentence before determining the appropriate penalty to impose.

As a result of court electing, the Magistrate has discretion in imposing a penalty he/she considers is most appropriate to you and your offending, taking into account factors such as your traffic record and extent of your need for a licence.

A part of that discretion the Magistrate has the option of imposing a non-conviction in the form of a section 10 dismissal or Conditional Release Order without conviction which has the consequence of no loss of demerit points and no fine.

On the other hand, the Magistrate also has the discretion to impose the maximum penalty of a fine of $2,200 and loss of 3 demerit points.

In conclusion, it is always a risk to court elect due to that. However, an experienced traffic lawyer can guide you in making the best decision.

 

So, What Should You do if You are Being Tailgated?

If you find yourself in a situation where you are being tailgated by an aggressive driver, it is in your best interests to not permit the tailgater to indirectly control your speed through their pressure.

Instead, it is wise to move out of their way by pulling over or turning left, allowing them to pass.

Equally, it is important not to slow down or flash your brake lights, as this may escalate the situation and cause road rage.

Further to this, it is advisable not to take matters into your own hands. A safer option would be to report the driver to the police or the business to which the vehicle belongs, upon which appropriate disciplinary action should be taken.

If you have a question about traffic law, call out friendly Sydney team of traffic lawyers today to arrange a free first appointment. We are available 24/7 on (02) 8606 2218.

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