Section 1129 of the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law establishes rules to prohibit a motorist from driving too closely behind the vehicle in front of them on the roadway. This law is commonly referred to as “tailgating.”
Of course the particular danger with tailgating is a rear end collision should the lead vehicle reduce their speed or brake suddenly or the second vehicle loses focus for even the smallest amount of time.
The NY tailgate law states that “The 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.”
Thus, there must be sufficient space between the front of your vehicle and the rear of the car in front of you. There is no set distance listed in the statute so following too closely is determined by the current conditions on the road at the time. Thus, the vehicle speed, as well as traffic and road conditions are all factors that go into determining if you are following too closely to the lead car.
State law says that a vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is “reasonable and prudent.” What constitutes “reasonable and prudent” is of course a bit of a judgment call by the issuing police officer. This is clearly a subjective standard.
In order to establish a charge of following too closely, an issuing officer must be able to offer some testimony regarding:
A safe distance at one speed may not be a safe distance at a higher speed.
It would be just about impossible for an officer to allege “too close” without further information regarding the distance between the vehicles.
In some situations, a vehicle may inadvertently and inevitably end up “too close” to another vehicle due to lane changes or other traffic patterns. In such a situation, the trailing vehicle should be given some reasonable opportunity to correct the situation by slowing down or safely moving to a different lane. An issuing officer should thus be required to establish the duration of time that a vehicle was driving “too closely” to another in order to avoid convicting a motorist whose vehicle may have been in such a position for only a very short period of time.
A conviction for following too closely carries four (4) points in NYS.
This is one of those violations that is a bit of a judgment call. There is no specific objective standard like with a speed traveled or the color of a light or a left turn that was made where prohibited. Following too closely is a factor of distance and speed. With respect to distance, an officer can really only approximate.
With respect to speed, it would either be just an approximation or there would be some equipment being used at the time for speed enforcement (laser for example) that would more accurately measure speed. In any event, there’s always going to be some portion of estimation and an officer’s discretion whether the distance and speed qualify as “not reasonable or prudent.”
A general rule of thumb is that you should maintain 1 car length (approximately 12-15 feet by industry standards) for every 10 miles per hour of travel. So, if you are traveling at the speed limit of 50 mph on a highway, you should leave approximately 60-75 feet between your car and the one in front of you.
This will give you ample space to stop your car without incident should the lead vehicle suddenly brake for any reason. However, even these distance norms can differ under different conditions. In perfect conditions – comfortably moving traffic, good weather, good visibility, good road conditions, experienced driver – a certain distance may work where in less than perfect conditions even more space might be necessary.
This is another legitimate factor to consider along with the speed traveled and the actual distance between vehicles. There may be a situation where you approach another vehicle a little too closely but then quickly switch lanes to pass. There could also be a situation where another vehicle cuts in front of you.
If an officer is watching, they would want to see you either pass the other vehicle or slow down and back off from the other vehicle as quickly as possible. An officer exercising reasonable judgment should recognize that the flow of traffic may bring two vehicles close together but that it’s not necessarily a violation if the driver(s) quickly recognize and remedy this.
As you can see, what constitutes being “reasonable and prudent” on the road is mostly a judgment call by the issuing police officer. This is a highly subjective standard, and one that introduces a host of issues. If you believe you were wrongfully issued a ticket, call our New York traffic ticket lawyers at (888) 842-5384.