Whether you ride or drive little else gets the blood boiling than a tailgater.
Tailgaters are annoying and dangerous and when encountered it often feels more like a personal slight. And, yes, while some tailgaters do so to get their message across that you ride too slow, sometimes it's just an accidental oversight on the part of the driver or perhaps even a mad rush to the hospital. Point is you have no idea what's going through the minds of the offender so get yourself out of harm's way.
While there isn't a specific distance that defines tailgating, it can be based on your comfort level and probability of having accident. If you look into your mirror and all you see is the grill of a car you probably have a tailgater. So what's the best approach as a motorcyclist to handle a driver just a few feet off your rear wheel?
Lorri Carney, a motorcycle instructor since 2011 with Team Oregon, continues with her tips for Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and gives us some solid advice on dealing with something we all encounter from time to time.
1. Stay Cool
If you become aware that someone is following too close for your comfort, remain calm. Most tailgaters are probably not doing it intentionally. It's most likely not aggression; it's a space cushion problem to solve.
Stay in control of your motorcycle and check your speed to see if you are going too slow. (New riders may be uncomfortable riding at higher speeds and should stick to roads with lower speed limits until more comfortable.) Maintain a constant speed, they may be stuck behind you because your speed is inconsistent, and they can't judge a safe time to pass. Don't purposely change your speed to annoy the person tailgating you. This may cause an accident or road-rage.
2. Let Them By
When it is safe to do so, pull over and let them go by. Even if they are only gaining one bike length, you are no longer being tailgated and can focus your attention on the traffic ahead. Even if you are riding the speed limit, you may still be slower than the traffic around you. Use the traffic pull-outs, if they are available in places where there isn't a safe passing zone. Remember to make sure it is safe before returning to the flow of traffic.
3. Increase Your Following Distance
Don't force yourself to travel faster than you feel safe going. Speeding up will mean that you are riding at a higher speed out of your comfort zone and may still have a tailgater. Slowing may feel counter-intuitive, but it will give you a larger space cushion in front of you to maneuver safely in another lane. If you have let the tailgater pass, keep your distance in case they manage to cause an accident ahead of you.
4. Communicate Intentions Early
Many times, motorcyclists don't even use the brakes to adjust speed. Down shifting and/or rolling off the throttle might be enough on a motorcycle, but drivers can't tell that you are slowing because there is no brake light signal. Also, motorcycle lights are much smaller than those on cars, making them harder to see.
Flash the brake light by using a few rapid, light taps to warn them that you are slowing, turning or preparing to come to a stop. Because of the lack of space between you and the tailgater, they might need extra reaction time to adjust their speed. Make sure to communicate your intentions well in advance. When slowing, do so gradually.
5. Use Smart Lane Positioning
Keep in the right lane unless you are actively passing. Position yourself in the left side of the lane to see further up the road, looking past the car you are following. You can see oncoming traffic, they can see you, and this position tends to discourage active tailgaters because you are effectively blocking the driver's view ahead. It should also give you more time to react to any hazards thus helping to avoid braking hard, which may lead to being rear-ended.
Remember to always be a courteous rider yourself and don't tailgate others. The goal is to stay safe, enjoy the ride and successfully make it to your destination. All while sharing the road with other vehicles.
Lorri Carney has saddled up since 2006 and in that time owned six motorcycles, her current ride a 2015 Triumph Tiger 800 named Gwendolyn. After five years of riding she joined Team Oregon as an instructor, one of the best decisions she's ever made.