You may think you are familiar with the dangers of tailgating, but did you know the simple act of tailgating puts motorcyclists at a staggering 27 times greater risk of death compared to car occupants according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration?

It’s enough to make any biker’s heart race. Imagine cruising down the open road, feeling the wind whip through your hair, only to see a big ass truck closing in quickly and hovering far too close for comfort to your rear wheel. The fear is real and justified, and the danger even more so.

The good news? Bikers have a secret weapon: the “back off” gesture, just one tool in your arsenal against this deadly threat. 

Let’s explore why tailgating is especially dangerous for motorcyclists, and what you can do to stay safe and avoid becoming a statistic.

Why tailgating is a problem: The real dangers of tailgating

Image of the headlights of a car as seen through the reflection in a rearview mirror of a motorcycle

Tailgating is more than just an annoyance—it’s a serious hazard, especially for motorcyclists! The close proximity of a vehicle tailgating a motorcycle reduces the margin for error and can quickly turn into a dangerous or even life-threatening situation.

In Iowa and across the Midwest, we all know the very real threat of a rogue deer suddenly jumping across your path. You quickly brake to avoid a collision, but The tailgating car behind you may not be ready for your sudden stop. The result? A potentially devastating chain-reaction accident.

Image of a deer crossing a highway

Imagine cruising down the highway, feeling the wind in your hair, when a car ahead of you slams on their brakes to avoid a pothole. You have enough time to react and slow down safely, but the tailgating car behind you doesn’t. The next thing you know, you’re rear-ended, potentially thrown from your bike, and facing serious injuries. 

So, how can motorcyclists avoid being tailgated and ensure their safety on the road?

Signaling the Tailgater: The Universal “Back Off” Gesture

Illustration demonstrating the universal hand gesture for "back off" shown by bikers to tailgating motorists

The first step in dealing with a tailgater is to communicate your discomfort and concerns before they become frustration or aggression. This can be done by signaling the tailgating motorist to back off. 

The universal signal for this is simple yet effective, and no, it does not involve raising a fist and extending one finger. Instead, extend your arm downward and repeatedly move the palm of your hand backward, as if physically pushing the car away. This non-verbal communication is generally recognized and respected by most motorists.

Here are a few tips to remember when signaling a tailgater:

  1. Make sure it’s safe to take one hand off the handlebars before signaling.
  2. Use clear, deliberate movements to ensure the tailgater understands your signal.
  3. Avoid aggressive or rude gestures that could escalate the situation.

Finding a Safe Place to Pull Over: Prioritizing Safety Over Speed

Close up photo of the back of a motorcycle that has pulled over safely to the side of the road.

If the tailgating motorist fails to respond and continues to follow too closely, the next best course of action is to locate a safe area to pull over and allow the tailgater to pass. It’s important to prioritize safety over speed or reaching your destination on time.

Speeding up is not a viable solution, as it will likely only result in being tailgated at an even higher speed. Once the tailgater has overtaken you, you can continue to enjoy your ride safely.

The Importance of Maintaining a Safe Distance: The Three-Second Rule

Image illustrating stationary points for counting the 3-second rule for following in traffic

Here is the best way to gauge a safe following distance:

  1. Choose a fixed point ahead of the vehicle in front of you (also known as “stationary points”.
  2. When the vehicle in front passes that point, start counting seconds.
  3. If you pass the same point before you finish counting to three, you’re following too closely.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, it should be obvious that maintaining a safe distance on the road is crucial for all vehicles, including motorcycles, to help avoid the dangers of tailgating.

If a biker tailgates a car, they risk a dangerous collision. Trailing vehicles should keep a three-second (or more) margin between the front of the following vehicle and the rear end of the vehicle being followed. This three-second safety margin is proven to significantly reduce the chance of being involved in a rear-end collision, ensuring safer roads for everyone.

If riding in a group, consider following the three-second rule while riding in “staggered formation” as shown below.

Image demonstrating the proper way to ride staggered formation on a motorcycle

Hit the Brakes, Not the Road: Don’t Let a Tailgate Ruin Your Ride

Remember that terrifying near-miss we talked about earlier? Imagine the consequences if the car behind you wasn’t just tailgating, but slamming into your back wheel. Scary stuff, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t just some hypothetical scenario to highlight the dangers of tailgating. These situations happen more often than they should, and motorcyclists often bear the brunt of the damage, both physically and financially.

That’s where knowing your rights comes in. Don’t just dust yourself off and move on if you’ve been injured in an accident thanks to an accident caused by a tailgating motorist. You deserve compensation for your medical bills, bike repairs, and lost wages. But navigating the legal system can be daunting, especially when you’re recovering from an injury.

Image of a biker on the side of a highway with his motorcycle as he contemplates next steps after a close call with a car tailgating him.

That’s why there are lawyers who specialize in fighting for the rights of injured motorcyclists. They understand the unique challenges you face and know how to build a strong case against negligent drivers.

Here’s the bottom line: You shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of an accident caused by someone else’s recklessness. By seeking legal support, you can hold the tailgater accountable. This means you’ll get the compensation you deserve to get back on your feet (and back on the road safely).

Remember: Riding a motorcycle is about freedom, not fear. By taking steps to stay safe, you can minimize the risk of tailgating incidents.


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