Drive on any of Devon and Cornwall’s major roads and you’re likely to see motorists performing a dangerous manoeuvre that even James Bond is wary of.
Known to millions of car enthusiasts as ‘Stig’, the white-suited driver on Top Gear, Ben Collins has been James Bond’s stunt driver in the last three Bond films, Skyfall, Quantum of Solace and Spectre. He has also coached hundreds of celebrities, from Tom Cruise to Lionel Ritchie, around the race-track – and is a championship winning Le Mans racing driver.
Now he’s joined forces with with Highways England in a bid to educate drivers travelling on our motorways and major A-roads, with a simple message.
And, as he – he grew up on a farm in Devon and went to Exeter University, he’s sure to know the A30, A38 and M5 very well – so we should all listen.
Despite performing fast-paced pursuits that required precision driving, Ben says there’s one thing he’ll never do – tailgating.
Ben said: “I discovered the dangers of tailgating at a very early age – in an overly enthusiastic game of musical chairs. The music stopped. So did the kid in front of me. But I didn’t. I face-planted the back of his head instead.
“Following the vehicle in front too closely reduces your vision to zero, along with your time to react to danger. Stay safe, stay back and look ahead.”
Statistics show that one in eight of all road casualties are caused by people who drive too close to the vehicle in front, with more than 100 people killed or seriously injured each year. Nearly 9 out of 10 people say they have either been tailgated or seen it. And more than a quarter of drivers admitted to tailgating.
While a small minority of tailgating is deliberate, most is unintentional by drivers who are simply unaware they are dangerously invading someone else’s space.
Last September, Highways England launched a campaign featuring the well-known Space Invader video game character to alert drivers to the anti-social nature and risks of tailgating.
A survey by the company revealed that tailgating is the biggest single bugbear that drivers have about other road users. And in-car research – using dashcams, facial recognition, emotion tracking and heart monitors – reveals that a driver’s typical reaction to someone who tailgates them is surprise, anger and contempt, with a spike in heart rate.
Highways England says good drivers leave plenty of safe space for themselves and others.
Richard Leonard, Head of Road Safety at Highways England, said: “It’s great to have someone of Ben’s experience backing the campaign and the message today is really simple around tailgating. We know that if you get too close to the car in front, you won’t be able to react and stop in time if they brake suddenly.
“Tailgating also makes the driver in front feel targeted and victimised, distracting their attention from the road ahead and making them more likely to make a mistake.
“It is intimidating and frightening if you’re on the receiving end. If that leads to a collision, then people in both vehicles could end up seriously injured or killed. We want everyone to travel safely, so the advice is – stay safe, stay back.”
A host of companies have already backed the ‘stay safe, stay back’ campaign, including National Express, which is carrying the message on some of its long-distance coaches. Other advocates include the RAC, National Police Chiefs Council, leading road safety bodies Brake and the Institute for Advanced Motorists, and Thatcham.
Highways England has a dedicated webpage where drivers can find more information about tailgating and what they can do to stay safe. It warns drivers to leave a minimum two-second gap – or else they could be putting themselves and others in danger.
The website says: “Driving too close to the vehicle in front is dangerous and can make it impossible to avoid a collision in an emergency. Tailgating was the third most common contributory factor in deaths and serious injuries on UK motorways in 2016.
In fact, tailgating is the biggest single bugbear that drivers have about other motorway users. Nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) drivers say they’ve experienced or witnessed it.”
“We associate tailgating with aggressive, ‘own the road’ speed-merchants, trying to intimidate other drivers to get out of their way.
“But many of us could be tailgating unintentionally, by misjudging our speed and the distance we need to stop safely.
“The Highway Code says you should ‘allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic’. The two seconds are made up of the time needed for thinking and stopping. And when it’s raining you need to at least double that gap.
“So if you don’t leave a minimum two-second gap, you could be putting yourself and others in danger.”
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