Following a vehicle too closely on the highway substantially increases the chances of a collision. The car ahead might brake suddenly and reduce the available reaction time for the next car to respond. The conditions of the road (e.g. rain, snow, ice) may increase the distance required for a vehicle to come to a full stop, meaning that the tailgater might not avoid hitting the bumper of the car ahead. Not only does this make the roadways more dangerous for everyone involved, but it also causes the tailgating driver to become liable for a traffic ticket.
MCL 257.643 provides as follows:
- (1) "The operator of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway."
- (2) "[A] person shall not operate a motor vehicle with a gross weight, loaded or unloaded, in excess of 5,000 pounds outside the corporate limits of a city or village, within 500 feet of a like vehicle..., moving in the same direction, except when overtaking and passing the vehicle."
What is considered "reasonable and prudent" is not defined by statute and is governed by common sense:
- Many driving schools teach drivers the car length rule, meaning that for every 10 mph of speed the following distance should be one car length. At 20 mph, following distance would be two car lengths, and at 60 mph six car lengths.
- The Michigan State Police advocates the more scientific 2-second rule. This means that the gap between vehicles should be the distance covered in two seconds at the vehicle's current speed to reach the position of the vehicle ahead on the road. Two seconds in stop and go traffic might be a car length or two but at highway speeds it would be much longer. For nighttime driving, 3 seconds between cars is recommended. During inclement weather such as rain, snow and icy conditions, 4 seconds between cars is recommended.
Tailgating is a civil infraction punishable by a fine and adds 2 points to the operator's Michigan driving record. A person accused of tailgating is not required to admit responsibility but rather can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. An experienced traffic attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor for a plea to a non-moving violation such as impeding traffic where points will not be imposed on the driver's license. If the driver is represented at a hearing, the attorney may convince the judge that the distance between the vehicles was reasonable under the circumstances and cause a dismissal of the charge.
While it is tempting to simply admit responsibility to the offense and move on, the points on your license can add up and result in license sanctions down the road if too many accumulate. While the fines may seem low, the increase in your auto insurance rates due to this moving violation can affect you financially for many years to come. It may be more cost-effective to take the time and fight the ticket properly in the beginning to decrease the expense down the road. If you are charged with tailgating or any other traffic offense, do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC.