Dr. Traffic

Tailgating is risky, aggressive driving. So, stop it.

Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the one ahead of you for safety.
Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the one ahead of you for safety. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Raise your hand if you can recite the two-second rule. No, this one is not about dropping food on the floor. That’s the five-second rule.

The two-second rule is about giving yourself enough time to react if things go wrong while you are driving. It says drivers should keep adequate distance between their own vehicle and the one ahead. That way you’re able to stop or make another move if necessary.

Here’s how the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles explains it: “Allow two seconds between the time the vehicle ahead of you passes a given point and the time your vehicle reaches the same point.”

That’s not necessarily what happens on the area’s highways during morning commutes. Too often someone in the passing lane (far left) is moving slowly while others are looking to make up for spending five extra minutes on chores at home. (Morning people, we understand.)

The passing lane is where the two groups meet – those who left home early and those trying to make time.

Frustration can quickly lead to risk-taking for the drivers blocked from higher speeds, legal or not, because of a slow-moving vehicle.

Last-minute lane changes and aggressive tailgating are just some of the tactics that can make rush hour on the interstates feel like a NASCAR experience.

This is not just aggravating. It’s dangerous. Following too closely is a leading cause of collisions, state officials say. There were more than 31,000 crashes in North Carolina in 2015 involving drivers who followed too closely, according to a report from N.C. DOT’s Traffic Safety Unit. Eleven people died and nearly 1,000 of those wrecks involved injuries, according to the report.

Following another vehicle too closely can be a form of aggressive driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Legislators in 15 states have taken action to try to curb this type of behavior, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

Our state has defined aggressive driving as “speeding and driving carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others while committing at least two of the following violations: running a red light or stop sign, illegal passing, failing to yield right of way, following too closely.”

Here’s a less-than-scientific take on what’s happening in the passing lane: Maybe this is sometimes about power and control.

We’ve all seen drivers move into the fast lane and crawl along without a care for who wants to pass. On the other hand, some drivers seem to look for someone to intimidate. I regularly see drivers speed up to the car ahead and follow closer than they should until the driver in front gets out of the way.

Sometimes something else happens. That’s because when you’re too close, you could be less than two seconds from disaster.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, Twitter @Sullivan_kms