Can I Get a Ticket for Tailgating Another Car?

Tailgating and follow-too-closely violations and possible defenses.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

When another driver is tailgating you, it's certainly annoying. But following another vehicle too closely can also result in a traffic citation. This article covers how state laws define tailgating and some of the ways you might be able to beat a tailgating ticket.

What Exactly Is Tailgating?

Most drivers have their own idea of what it means to tailgate. But there's also a legal definition that police look to when they write tickets. The specifics of state laws differ somewhat. But most states define tailgating (officially called "follow too closely" in many states) along the lines of:

  • driving behind another vehicle more closely than is "reasonable and prudent" given the current circumstance, or
  • failing to leave enough space in front of your vehicle so that another vehicle can enter the space safely.

In many states, the second type of tailgating (failing to leave enough space sufficient for another vehicle to fit) is a violation only if it occurs outside residential and business districts.

Exceptions to Tailgating Restrictions

The tailgating laws of many states contain exceptions for funeral processions and other lawful motorcades. It's also common for tailgating laws to contain qualifying language such as "when conditions reasonably permit." This type of language basically inserts an element of common sense into these laws. For instance, it probably wouldn't be reasonable for drivers to leave huge spaces in front of their vehicles while driving in dense traffic or a crowded parking lot.

Beating a Tailgating Traffic Ticket

Tailgating is generally a traffic infraction with penalties comparable to a speeding or stop sign ticket. In other words, you'll probably be looking at a fine and demerit points on your driving record for a conviction.

But, in certain circumstances, it might be worth fighting a tailgating ticket in traffic court. If you do decide to fight your ticket, you should also consider talking to a traffic attorney. An experienced traffic attorney will generally have a good idea of the best defenses and other options for dealing with the ticket.

Tailgating tickets are often based on the citing officer's subjective judgment. In other words, the officer believed, based on his or her observations, that you were following another vehicle at a distance that wasn't reasonably safe. Of course, what's reasonably safe is a judgment call. So, one possible defense is to simply argue that, under the circumstances, the distance between you and the other vehicle was safe. In making this type of argument, it helps if you can point to things like the weather conditions and visibility being good and low vehicle speeds. Depending on where the officer was while observing the alleged violation, you might also have success arguing the officer's vantage point was inadequate to assess the situation correctly.

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