Tailgating (Not the Fun Kind)

Julia Webster, Co-Editor

Recently, I drove to North Carolina. And by drove, I mean I sat in stand-still traffic for over an hour, stressed out about the speed limit (over 70), and resolved to never live more than two hours away from my mother. It was an experience to say the least.

I’ve been driving on my own for about one and a half years. I wouldn’t say I’m a pro, but I’m definitely better than I was a year ago, when 40mph made me want to pee my pants. I have driven on a highway before, as in once before because I live in Southern Maryland rather than the heart of New York.

I also drive the speed limit. This seems to be my most debilitating driving habit. The signs with numbers on them? Yeah, I actually pay attention to those, and heed their directions. Some other people (everyone driving on I-95) see these signs as suggestions. That scene from Pirates of the Caribbean with Captain Barbossa is coming to mind. It’s more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. It’s like speed limits aren’t the law or something.

So, I got more experience with tailgating. And not the fun kind with drinks and parties and football games. I’m talking about the stressful kind with jerks who follow too closely and seem to want to climb in the trunk of my car. There were multiple incidents with impatient drivers who were desperate to get a ticket and a fender bender.

One particularly memorable instance of this type of driving happened in a construction zone. The speed limit fell from 70 to 55 mph, which should have been my first indication that things weren’t going to end well. I slowed down at a reasonable rate, not too fast, not too slow, in order to avoid getting rear-ended. I saw a sign that told me the right lane would be closed within a mile. I sighed because the right lane is the slow-poke lane (my lane) and the left lane is for people who don’t care about their safety or well-being. So I merged into the left lane, to my extreme discomfort, and tried to calm my racing heart. The cars ahead of me were completely disregarding the new speed limit, and I’m assuming they were very excited to die and/or get a ticket. I looked in my rear-view mirror, and noticed that the car three cars behind me was not happy with the decrease in traffic. The car swerved into the right lane, which was quickly approaching the end of it’s days as a right lane, and I’m guessing the driver put his entire weight on the gas pedal, (plus maybe his children’s weight as well), because he passed the three cars in front of him (including me), cut me off and swerved back into the left lane. He then slammed on his brakes because the person in front of him was actually obeying the law (a novel concept). I, in turn, slammed on my breaks, and felt my heart thump completely out of my chest.

Not a millisecond later (I counted), I saw the car directly behind me decide that he too wanted to end his life right then and there. He veered into the ending right lane and tried to speed. Then, he realized that his was a suicide mission and he returned to his place behind me. My heart had not stopped trying to escape the confines of my ribcage, and the addition of the near rear-ending didn’t help.

This is just how the whole of my brief time driving has been, a history of tailgating and disrespect on the road. No one takes me seriously on the road. I am apparently the only one who follows the rules and doesn’t have a death wish. I am constantly in a battle with myself, worrying about whether it’s better to follow the speed limit and risk getting rear-ended (or worse) if I happen to brake suddenly and the person behind me is too close to react, or speed up and get away. So far, I’ve always chosen to follow the law, but when will that stop? At what point do new drivers realize it’s faster and easier to simply follow the crowd? We all learn in Driver’s Ed that the safe distance between cars is three seconds, but when do we actively choose to ignore that rule?

I have seen, first-hand, how people feel they must speed up to appease the trunk-riders. The stress of following too closely has a direct relationship to the amount of focus I can devote to the road. Too often, I find myself watching the car behind me, worried that if I brake too suddenly, I will have a car pressing up against my seat. This only serves to distract me from the road.

Don’t tailgate kids. You’ll set off someone like me. You won’t know it by looking at me, but inside, I assure you, I am a seething ball of rage.