Because it's a pain in the butt to find me on the Boston Globe website.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Driving Col. No. 3

Who taught YOU to drive?

“Tailgating”

By Peter DeMarco

If the person in front of you is driving too slowly, well, God help them.

That’s the punch line, more or less, for every joke about Boston drivers who tailgate. And the jokes are endless.

“’The Push’ is a simple maneuver that kindly tells the snail in front of you: "Hey, get out of the way,” reads the driving humor website www.Masshole.net. “To utilize The Push, drive up behind the offending vehicle and apply pressure. Your distance should be such that you can hear what radio station they are listening to. The Push can be accompanied by flashing headlights during night driving to increase effectiveness.”

Statistics on tailgating are hard to come by. But Charles McGowan, (cq) a former hearings officer for the Registry of Motor Vehicles who’s spent the past 20 years as an attorney specializing in motor-vehicle related law, says tailgating-related accidents are commonplace. “It’s a Boston sport,” he says. “I think most people do it subconsciously.”

But what, exactly, constitutes tailgating? Is it enough to stay a full car length behind someone? Two car lengths? What if you’re in heavy traffic? And what’s the punishment if you’re caught?

THE LAW SAYS …

Tailgating is both unsafe and illegal, says Officer Michael McCarthy, (cq) a Boston Police Department spokesman. But it’s also highly subjective.

“There’s not an exact definition. Like, here’s the law that says you have to be X amount of feet behind someone,” he says. “It depends on the road conditions, speed. If you’re bumper to bumper in traffic, you’re going to be up close to someone. The general rule of thumb in the city is that you should be able to see the bottom of the tires of the car in front of you. Even in traffic.”

The AARP tells members to abide by the “Three-Second Rule.” Pick a landmark – a building, street sign or telephone pole. When the car in front of you passes the landmark, start counting. If you reach the landmark in your car before counting to three, you’re driving too closely.

Another guideline says you should allow a car length’s distance for every 10 miles of speed. For example, if you’re driving 50 M.P.H., the gap between you and the next car should be five car lengths long.

The experienced Boston driver, no doubt, will find flaws with such guidelines. People tailgate to prevent other drivers from pulling in front of them. By staying back, what’s to stop others from filling the gap and slowing you down?

The answer, McGowan says, is nothing. But the consequences of tailgating are serious – especially road rage - and if you rear-end someone, you are almost always at fault. The police, meanwhile, can charge you with a number of violations, from the rather innocuous “Following too Closely”, which carries a $35 fine, to criminal charges of driving to endanger.

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