Tailgating on urban highways and possible means to mitigate tailgating

Miao Song, University of Rhode Island


Tailgating is a dangerous driving behavior and is a leading cause of rear-end crashes. Understanding tailgating situations on highways and exploring means to mitigate tailgating behavior is a priority to many traffic management authorities. Motivated by tailgating behavior observed on urban Rhode Island highways, a five-part study was conducted to investigate the tailgating issue and counter-tailgating measures. The five parts include a preliminary questionnaire survey, a vehicle headway analysis, a driving simulation study, a field study, and a follow-up questionnaire survey. ^ To assess the causes and effects of tailgating and its impact on highway traffic, the study started with a preliminary questionnaire survey and a vehicle headway analysis. The questionnaire survey was launched to find the leading causes of tailgating and to identify drivers' perceptions on tailgating behavior. Although most of the participants identified heavy traffic as the top tailgating cause, the survey found that most of them had an incorrect sense of proper vehicle headway and tailgated when driving on highways. A vehicle headway analysis was next conducted. It examined vehicle headways on a few selected segments of urban highways in Rhode Island. It found that more than 60% of vehicles were tailgating during rush hour and about 40% during non-rush hour. This observation indicated that serious tailgating is present on urban Rhode Island highways. To advise drivers and mitigate their tailgating behavior, counter-tailgating measures such as advisory signs and an education video were developed. The effectiveness of these measures was assessed through a driving simulation experiment. It found that tailgating behavior could be limited when advisory signs were posted along highways. The effect was even more pronounced if the subject viewed the education video prior to the simulation. Subjects' driving behaviors were further investigated through a field study. Most subjects found it difficult to maintain a safe following distance in a real driving environment as other drivers would often cut into the gap they maintained with the leading vehicle. Subjects' preferences on proposed tailgating treatment systems were surveyed in the last part of the study. The results showed that the majority preferred regularly-spaced horizontal bars painted on pavement as reference markings to help gauge safe following distance and graphic-aided static message posted on overhead dynamic message signs to advise about safe following distance. Based on the results, it is recommended that the proposed advisory signs and tailgating treatment system be adopted on urban highways together with a public information campaign using education video on safe vehicle headway. Law enforcement is also recommended to further help reduce fatalities and serious injuries in rear-end crashes associated with tailgating, and help facilitate more efficient and safer driving on highways. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Engineering, Industrial

Recommended Citation

Miao Song, "Tailgating on urban highways and possible means to mitigate tailgating" (2012). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3503464.