Drivers on Shaikh Zayed Road are seen here not respecting the cardinal rule of keeping a safe distance between cars. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: You are being tailgated.

Your rearview mirror flashes in blinding strobes as a car horn behind you seems to be synchronised with the headlights of the driver’s trigger-happy finger.

Tailgating was responsible for 12 per cent of the traffic accidents in 2014, according to statistics released by the Abu Dhabi Police Traffic and Patrols Directorate on Saturday.

Twenty-two people died and 16 were severely injured in 227 traffic accidents caused by tailgating in Abu Dhabi last year.

Egyptian Ahmad M. said he is a tailgater but admits he doesn’t like being on the receiving end of flashing headlights.

“If a driver wants to drive 80km/h, he shouldn’t be in the fast lane,” the 26-year-old civil engineer said, “I usually start flashing these drivers from a significant distance away to give them the opportunity to change lanes. But some are persistent in their lethargy. So I start tailgating them.”

Ahmad drives a Mustang GT and said that he enjoys pushing the muscle car to its full potential.

“I’m not going to deny that I love speeding. But I am always aware of the situation and whether or not it allows me to drive fast. It really infuriates me when people drive like slugs on the left lane. I have this technique that if the motorist in front refuses to give way even after I flash and honk, I slow down my car down and keep a significant distance between us, then slam my foot on the gas pedal until my front fender is a hand away from the other vehicle’s rear. That usually does the trick as it intimidates the person.”

“If I am driving slow on the fast lane, which rarely ever happens, I would give the tailgater the opportunity to pass. But most of the time, funnily enough, I can’t seem to empathise with other tailgaters. I’d remove my leg from the gas pedal and just enjoy their vexation as they try to overtake me. A few times I’ve even had the impulse to slam my brakes.”

How would you react to what psychologists call an on-road power struggle and need for control?

Dr Mary John, a clinical psychologist at Dubai Community Health Centre, said tailgating is an act that seeks control of the situation.

“A tailgating motorist wants right of way and when the driver in front refuses to let them pass a power struggle arises. Tailgating is obviously a risk-taking behaviour, it is impatient and it is impulsive and tailgaters get a kick from that, for them it’s a game of power.”

John said that like any other risk-taking behaviour, tailgating is fuelled by adrenaline.

“Tailgaters feel that pump of adrenaline. Like a drug, it entices the person to engage in the act again and again. These little road games are usually played by teenage drivers right up to those in their early thirties. Like any other behaviour therapy, punishment is a good way to ward off tailgating. The punishment of fining or black points may influence the driver to relinquish the bad driving habit. Sadly, some youngsters don’t seem to care for the monetary repercussions. However, some form of punishment is always helpful in allaying this phenomenon.”

Those being tailgated will act in either of two ways, John said. “They will either engage in the power struggle and challenge the tailgater or they will give way to the tailgater. People who generally abide by traffic rules may feel anxious when being tailgated and will give the tailgater the opportunity to pass as early as possible.”

Lory Lentian, an Armenian university student, said she only tailgates people when it is her right to ask others to give way.

“Some people drive ridiculously slowly on the left lane. I usually start by flashing them a good distance away, but some people are stubborn so I begin tailgating them. I never cross the speed limit and try to be as courteous as possible to other drivers, but some just don’t know how to abide by the lane rules. Languid driving is just as much the cause of accidents as high speed driving.”

Lentian said she is not like those who inconsiderately tailgate those who cannot speed up or move to the next lane.

“There are many who seem to be blind to the surrounding environment,” she said. “They start tailgating and flashing, demanding way where none exists. Many times there are cars by me and in front of me and some stupid motorist would tailgate me demanding that I let him pass. There were a few times where I reported such motorists to the police.”

Alan Yousuf, a Lebanese business management major, said tailgating is a common practice among his friends at university.

“I tailgate when either the car in front is driving extremely slowly or if I have somebody waiting for me and I don’t want to keep them waiting. When I am being tailgated, I put myself in the other person’s shoes and usually give way. However, There are also times when I’m driving just at the brink of the speed limit and another car starts flashing me. I can’t go any faster so I don’t give way.”

Yousuf said he becomes irritated by people who don’t let him pass. “They intentionally go slower and then are a cause for an accident. All my friends tailgate,” he said, “I suppose we’re an impatient generation.”