Too close for comfort: a mixed methods study to understand self-reported tailgating using the theory of planned behaviour

A. N. Stephens, K. L. Stephan, R. Crotty, S. O'Hern, G. Björklund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Tailgating (following a lead vehicle too closely) is a key contributor to crashes and injury. While vehicle technology has the potential to reduce the trauma resulting from tailgating, full market penetration of these technologies is some time away. In the meantime, efforts to improve road safety can focus on supporting safer driver behaviour by targeting motivations for this behaviour. Method: A mixed methods design was used to understand reasons why drivers tailgate and potential countermeasures to reduce this behaviour. Qualitative data from 247 drivers (males = 29 %; mean age = 39.86; SD = 14.39) were sought to understand circumstances when drivers are tailgated and when they report tailgating. In a second study, 736 drivers (males = 41 %; mean age = 37.69; SD = 14.27) responded to questions developed from the qualitative findings to quantify the frequency of tailgating and reasons behind it. The theory of planned behaviour (TPB) was applied to understand whether self-reported intention to tailgate could be predicted by attitudes, perceived social acceptance of the behaviour, perceived behavioural control, and past tailgating behaviour. Results: Tailgating was a common behaviour. All drivers in the first study had experienced being tailgated by other drivers, while 77% had tailgated other vehicles; albeit 55% reported this was rare. Tailgating was unintentional (due to dense traffic; or lack of knowledge of safe following distance recommendations) or intentional (due to pressure from other drivers, anger or to change others’ behaviour). Structural equation modelling showed that TPB constructs of attitude, social norms, perceived behavioural control and past tailgating behaviour predicted intention to tailgate, accounting for 66% of the variance. Conclusion: TPB is a useful framework for explaining tailgating behaviour, or at least the intention to tailgate, and to develop interventions. These could focus on education of the risks of tailgating, the recommended safe following distances as well as strategies to support drivers maintaining safe following distances across different speed zones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-22
Number of pages12
JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Close following
  • Crash
  • Driver behaviour
  • Road safety
  • Tailgating
  • Theory of planned behaviour

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