A London Free Press website article discussed the OPP use of an aircraft to catch tailgating vehicles. A photo was displayed showing a tractor-trailer that was travelling along Highway 401 east of London, Ontario on the afternoon of Sunday, March 24, 2019. The truck was allegedly travelling at less that 10 metres (i.e. about 2 car lengths) behind another truck in the middle lane of the highway. It was noted that the offending trucker was charged with stunt driving. Such a charge caused a seven-day license suspension for the driver and an impoundment of the tractor-trailer. While the action of the tailgating truck driver was dangerous there is more to this issue.

What has not been discussed is how often this action of tailgating occurs on Highway 401. In the vicinity of where the charge was laid Highway 401 has a traffic volume (AADT) of over 70,000 vehicles per day and the numbers of vehicles performing these tailgating actions is so large there would not be enough OPP officers in the whole Province of Ontario to ticket them all. This comment is not made without supporting research.

Recently Gorski Consulting has been conducting traffic observations along Highway 401, including the incidence of tailgating. In a recent news item uploaded to the Gorski Consulting website (“Highway 401 Safety Issues – Gaps Between Vehicles”, December 16, 2018) data was presented from videotaping at four sites between London and Tilbury, Ontario. Part of the research involved documenting the time gap between the rear of a lead vehicle and the front end of a following vehicle as they passed a specific reference point on the Highway. Fifteen minutes of videotape was taken from each of the four sites and numbers of vehicles travelling at gaps of less than 2 seconds we counted. Out of 532 vehicles, 98 such vehicles, or about 18.4 %, were found to be travelling below the noted 2-second gap. If there were 70,000 vehicles passing the 400 metre distance were the observations were made then about 12,880 drivers would be driving at less than the 2-second gap each day. At a speed of 100 km/h a 2-second gap would be about 55 metres or over 10 car lengths. So it is substantially longer that the 2-car-length gap reported in the London Free Press article.

In order to come closer to the gap discussed in the article, the Gorski Consulting data was re-examined to select only those incidents where the gap was less than one second. Only 16 vehicles were found to be tailgating in this fashion, or about 3.0% of the observed vehicles. Never-the-less, this would mean, given a traffic volume of 70,000, that about 2100 such tailgaters would exist in that 400 metre distance, every day. This could be narrowed to at least 88 vehicles every hour. This represents a great many drivers who tailgate but are not nabbed by the OPP.

This reality is not convenient because in order to reduce these numbers police would have to employ vast numbers of cruisers stopped along the highway to catch a reasonable number of offenders. Yet it is known that conducting traffic stops along the busy Highway 401 is dangerous to police, and also to other road users if a chaotic event is created. Aerial patrols can only catch a limited number of offenders and there is still the issue that these offenders must be pulled over.

In this example from videotaping of westbound traffic on Highway 401 near Elgin Road, a transport truck is tailgating another truck in the right lane while a third truck is in the process of entering the lane from an on-ramp. The tailgating driver cannot see the truck entering the right until the truck in front changes lanes, as shown in the photo below.

Fortunately, this instance the tailgating truck was able to see the truck entering the right lane in time and a collision was avoided. However these are the kinds of complications that occur when visibility ahead in reduced by tailgating.

A solution is not easy or simple. However in order to consider some solutions, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, police and  the public first need to recognize and acknowledge the extent of the problem. Publicizing that a single driver was nabbed and faces dire repercussions will not solve the problem when so many other offenders escape those repercussions. When many drivers travelling along Highway 401 are from out of the Province and many are from U.S. states, it is of minimal benefit to publish an article in a local news outlet about the fate of one driver as those out-of-town drivers will likely not even hear/read of the charges.

Yet the consequences of tailgating are major. Tailgating reduces the line of sight of drivers who cannot react to events that they cannot see. This may be one of the reasons why so many multi-vehicle, rear-end collisions occur, often with fatal results. Our society needs to spend more time discussing this difficult problem with a provision of cold hard facts.