Following too closely, often known as “tailgating,” is a traffic violation you can receive if you follow a vehicle more closely than is reasonable or prudent.
In New York, the laws and regulations around tailgating can be confusing, making it easy to receive a tailgating ticket accidentally. Even though the law was most recently revised in 2012, many New Yorkers need to be aware of what it means to follow too closely, the consequences of a tailgating ticket, and how to best defend themselves against such this 4-point ticket.
Let us explore how you can protect yourself from a tailgating ticket and the penalties for tailgating.
How do police officers determine if you are tailgating?
According to Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1129(a), it is illegal to follow too closely. Precisely, “[t]he driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”
While the law seems simple and concise, many New York drivers need help understanding what is too close. There is no specific, measured distance a driver must leave between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them, making the tailgating law even more enigmatic.
So what is a reasonable following distance?
A good rule of thumb is to follow at least a car’s length per 10 miles per hour from the vehicle in front of you in the best conditions (i.e., clear skies, minimal traffic, optimal lighting, dry pavement, etc.).
For instance, if you are driving at 60 miles per hour on a highway, you should maintain a distance of roughly 6 car lengths between the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of you and your vehicle’s front bumper.
This distance allows you enough time to stop or slow down as necessary to avoid a rear-end accident. In less-than-ideal circumstances (i.e., rain or snow, darkness, heavy traffic, etc.), this distance should be increased to allow for more reaction time.
Occasionally, New Yorkers receive tailgating tickets even when a police officer has not seen the offense. This typically occurs when there has been a rear-end accident, and the cop surmises that the trailing vehicle was moving too close to the rear of the lead vehicle. In such situations, this type of ticket is more defensible than when the police officer actually observes the offense.
What are the penalties for tailgating in New York?
In New York, tailgating is not as serious as in other states, but it can still hold some penalties. Let us take a look at what you might be charged with if you commit this moving violation and get caught. This violation carries 4 points on your driver’s license as well as a fine and surcharge.
If a driver is convicted of tailgating, they may receive the following tickets:
- A fine of up to $150 for a first offense
- A fine of up to $300 for a second offense
- A fine of up to $450 for a third offense
Maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you is essential for several reasons. It gives you the most incredible time and distance to react as necessary to avoid creating (or worsening) an accident. This helps protect your vehicle, yourself, and your passengers from serious harm or death. Keeping a safe distance also allows space for oncoming traffic to merge onto roadways and enables emergency vehicles to maneuver as necessary efficiently.
Like most traffic infractions in New York, a tailgating ticket carries points against the driver’s license. Following too closely carries 4 points. Tailgating tickets also add points to your driver’s license. While most tickets add 2 or 3 points, tailgating tickets add 4 points to your license, so you know law enforcers take it very seriously.
Remember that your driver’s license may be suspended if you get 11 points in 18 months.
Further, receiving too many points within a specific period can result in costly consequences:
If you receive a total of 6 points on your driver record for violations committed during 18 months, the annual assessment is $100. The minimum amount that you must pay each year is the annual assessment. The total assessment for the three years is $300. If you receive more than 6 points on your driver record during a period of 18 months, the annual assessment is $25 for each point in addition to the original six points. The minimum amount that you must pay each year is the annual assessment. The total assessment for the three years is $75 for each point in addition to the original 6 points. (New York Department of Motor Vehicles)
It is also important to note that tailgating tickets are often issued at the same time as other traffic violations, including:
In the long run, a tailgating ticket’s legal costs and consequences can be considerably hefty.
Surcharge & Driver Responsibility Assessment
A surcharge is an amount you are obligated to pay on top of other fees and fines associated with your case. If you are convicted of tailgating, you will have to pay a surcharge of $88 to $93.
You may also need to keep the driver responsibility assessment in mind. It is a fee you must pay to New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles over 3 years if you are convicted of certain traffic offenses in New York State or accumulate six or more points on your driving record within 18 months. You will have to pay these assessments on top of all other applicable fines.
Insurance Rate Increase
According to the New York Insurance Law §2335, your insurance company can legally raise your monthly rate for the following reasons:
- Speeding more than 16+ mph over the limit
- Speeding or reckless driving resulting in injury or death
- Speeding two or more occasions
- Avoiding arrest
- Leaving the scene of the accident
- Road racing
- Driving without a license
- Two or more moving violation convictions
- Driving with a suspended license
How can I defend my tailgating ticket?
If you defend yourself from a tailgating ticket in a case like this, the most crucial factor is not admitting guilt before consulting a knowledgeable New York traffic attorney.
Your primary defense against a citation for following too closely is to prove that you were following at a reasonably safe distance based on the conditions at the time and place of the alleged infraction.
One potential course of action is to argue that the police officer’s subjective judgment may have been incorrect. Citing factors like weather conditions, visibility, vehicle speed, and where the officer was when they observed the alleged violation might help your case.
While you may be able to develop and argue other winning defenses by yourself, it is recommended that you seek legal counsel to assist in proving that you were not tailgating.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is tailgating considered reckless driving?
No, these are two different offenses. Reckless driving is driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or a willful disregard for the potential consequences of one’s actions. Often, reckless driving comes from a conscious decision to expose others to harm.
Suppose an officer determines that you were driving recklessly during the same incident in which you received a tailgating ticket. In that case, you may be cited to defend yourself from reckless driving accusations on top of the tailgating ticket.
Reckless driving is a criminal offense (misdemeanor) in New York, adds 5 points to your license, carries fines, and could even lead to jail time (30 to 180 days).
What if someone is tailgating me?
If someone is tailgating you, you should do a few things:
- Avoid yelling or insulting the tailgater. This could later be considered road rage or used against you.
- Stay calm. Do not slow down or speed up suddenly. Try to maintain your composure and make space for them to pass.
- Let them pass. If you are on a multi-lane road, move to the right when it is safe to let them pass. Consider pulling into a parking lot or gas station on a single-lane highway to let them pass.
How Weiss & Associates, PC can help you defend your ticket
Since 1991, the traffic lawyers at Weiss & Associates, PC, have helped over 100,000 motorists in court. Our lawyers specialize in traffic law across New York State, and we make your traffic issue as easy as possible.
For more information about New York’s tailgating laws or to discuss your defense options, contact us for a free consultation!