A tailgater is a bully par excellence and his weapon is the “I’m not touching you” game. You remember that game, don’t you? It’s the one where your older brother tries to hit you as hard as he can but always manages to miss by a fraction of an inch. When you flinch or complain to your mom the refrain is always the same: “I never even touched you.” Of course, to keep things interesting, sometimes he does actually hit you – if he always missed you’d have nothing to fear, right? On the road the game is almost exactly the same and nine times out of ten the bully never hits you. But once in a while – once in a great while – it’s “metal up your ass.”
We all know how it feels when a tailgater slides up behind. It starts innocently enough when he is just another car running with traffic but soon he has eased up onto your bumper until he is mere inches away. Your heart begins to beat faster as you look in the rearview and see him sitting back there, his unblinking, angry eyes boring into your own via the mirror. You look away and accelerate slightly to add some distance but he matches your move and slips slightly to the left where he fills your side-view mirror with light from his driver’s side headlight. The pressure builds.
As it is with physical bullying, being the victim of a tailgater can cause you a great deal of mental stress. No matter how strong or self-assured you might be in real life, you feel the powerless before a tailgater and short of pulling over and challenging them to a fist fight you have few real options other than surrender. Hitting your brakes might lead to an accident. Gradually dropping your speed might net you a pass on the right and a close call when the other driver purposefully cuts you off as he swerves back into your lane.
My favorite tactics are more passive aggressive. If it is raining, I slide over onto the wettest part of the road and kick up as much spray as possible. It helps if there are pebbles and small debris there as well and anything my tires can kick up becomes a weapon in my private little war, tiny missiles that stick to his windshield or impinge upon his paint. Eventually I will tire of the game and move right but if the tailgater has been especially annoying I do it as slowly as possible. I may even let off the gas to drop my speed as I change lanes, causing the other driver some discomfort as I unexpectedly slow mid-lane change.
Of course all these kinds of things are quite petty, aren’t they? How much more simple life would be if people stayed right except to pass or to allow others onto the freeway. How much more simple things would be if our egos weren’t all wrapped up in huge pieces of steel running down the highway at speeds exceeding a mile a minute. We should all live and let live and love our neighbors as ourselves, right? Riiight…
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.