Dealing with aggressive tailgaters!

Dealing with aggressive tailgaters - Angry driverAnother great question was sent in to us this week – this time about dealing with aggressive drivers.  Find more information about what to do and how to deal with aggressive tailgaters and angry drivers during a driving lesson.

“Hi Ged & Claire, I love reading all of your articles and love the long detailed answers you give.  Any advice on dealing with other crazy people on the road?

I had a few moments recently when I thought I was going to get my head kicked in! For doing the speed limit!  Doing 30 mph in a 30 zone, this person comes flying up behind, driving an inch from my bumper.  We are doing the speed limit, so what can I do? I asked my learner to pull up on the left, but then the other driver pulls up alongside us and gives a mouthful about nothing! People turn into ‘gangsters’ when they get behind the wheel.

I had another incident the other day.  My learner was giving way to oncoming traffic at a meeting point in the road where a sign indicates oncoming traffic has priority. Then this woman comes up behind staring into my mirror screaming the words “F***ING GO THEN!” several times! I pointed to the sign, but then she overtakes, bouncing up the island and nearly smashing into the car that we were giving way to!

And they say it’s young drivers that causes crashes.  No.  It’s other peoples stinking attitude. The ‘always in a hurry’ kind of attitude.

I know the best thing to do is just try to ignore it, but it really gets my adrenaline going.  It’s that kind of feeling when somebody starts on you – fight or flight.

I’m sure I’m not the only ADI getting stick for not breaking the law?

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks in advance”

When people find out you’re a driving instructor, do you often hear them say, “Wow, you must have lots of patience”? It’s true.  We do.  And we probably all have a lot of patience when teaching our learners – after all, they’re not getting things wrong on purpose!

Our patience really gets tested, however, when dealing with impatience and aggression from other road users, and I totally understand your frustration. I think most driving instructors have the same frustrations too. Here are some ideas on how to minimise and deal with aggressive actions from others on the road.

Tips for Dealing with Aggressive Tailgaters and Angry Drivers!

Fit some in-car cameras

Photo courtesy of Mark Oliver's Driving School

Photo courtesy of Mark Oliver’s Driving School

An increasing number of driving instructors are choosing to install forward- and rear-facing cameras in their training vehicle.  These serve their purpose if you’re ever involved in a crash, as video footage can be invaluable for proving who was at fault. However, having a sign in the rear of your car stating that you have CCTV fitted can act as a great deterrent to aggressive tailgaters and angry drivers. A local instructor has the above “You’re on CCTV” sign on the rear of his car and we think it’s a great way of letting others know that their actions are being caught on camera.  He says he has definitely noticed a reduction in the number of drivers being aggressive or displaying impatience and that fewer drivers follow too closely.  In-car cameras range from inexpensive £15 models to all-singing-and-dancing High Definition, GPS & WiFi models costing around £350 – £400.

Not interested in getting an in-car camera?  Well, even if you don’t have CCTV, a sticker stating that you do may be just as effective! 🙂

Add a sign or message to the rear of your car

A well thought-out sign or written message on the back of your car can help encourage good behaviour. The level of effectiveness may depend on the language used, and of course the temperament of the driver behind!  More tips about prevention and dealing with aggressive tailgaters.

  • If I stop, can you? Some following drivers may see this as more of a challenge to their ability, “Of course I can!”
  • Keep your distance – This should encourage people to keep back, but with it being phrased as an order, some drivers may rebel against you telling them how to drive.
  • You were a learner once – Most drivers can empathise with this, but this message alone may be a little too subliminal. “Yes I was” they may think while they drive 10cm from your bumper!
  • DANGER! Sudden braking! – Whilst it might keep people off your bumper, this message may not be not as encouraging for potential pupils or your current learners who see it every time they come out to the car for their lesson.
  • Please be patient – This is better for encouraging drivers behind to be courteous and patient if it is read as a question rather than an order.  However, some people reading it might just think, “No, I won’t be b***dy patient!” 😉
  • Thanks for being patient 🙂 This is our personal favourite.  We all like thanks and there is a presupposition here that the following driver has been patient, meaning that they are more likely to be.  A smiley face confirms the tone in which it is meant.
  • Muay-Thai-loveBlack Dragon Kick Boxing – I always wonder if drivers who advertise their local martial art club experience less aggression on the roads?! Some drivers become intimidating once they get behind the wheel, I wonder if they would do the same if they realise the driver in front could be a black belt! I always remember one of my instructors telling me of one of his experiences… During a lesson, he asked the pupil to pull over to have a polite word with the driver behind who was being aggressively impatient and quite verbal in the safety of his own car. The other driver couldn’t say “sorry” enough when he saw the massive body builder physique of the instructor that climbed out of the little Vauxhall Corsa!

Ditch the roof sign and try just L-plates

l plateFor some reason, many instructors report that using a roof sign can attract a greater number of other drivers ‘making poor decisions’ than when just displaying L plates alone.  We’re not entirely sure if this is actually true or just a false perception. If it is true, it may be that others may:

a)      Perceive that a learner driver will almost certainly be behind the wheel of the driving school car.  In the case of a car with L-plates on, it could be being driven by a full licence holder who normally accompanies their son or daughter for private practice;

b)      Consider that a driving school car is under more control due to a driving instructor being present.  Parents with their son or daughter at the wheel have less ability to stop or control the car is something goes wrong.  Therefore the risky or aggressive driver takes more chances around the driving school car;

c)       Have been conditioned by parents, friends and peers to HATE learner drivers – the bright decals and roof sign are like a red rag to a bull for some people, and they will do ANYTHING to get past ‘that damn learner’.

Whatever the reason, we’d be interested to hear your views on this.  Have you tried removing your roof sign and just using L-plates instead?  Did it make any noticeable difference to the way other drivers behaved around you?  Let us know your thoughts and experiences!

Route planning

If your learners feel they are being pushed into situations that they find difficult to deal with (or are not yet confident with), they are more likely to be hesitant and slow on the road.  This will inevitably lead to following drivers trying their hardest to get past. The more your learner gets overtaken, or experiences aggression from other road users, the more it can affect their confidence and ability.  This is a vicious circle. I had a few rear-end shunts in my first few years as an instructor and looking back, I know I was too tough pushing learners into situations they weren’t ready for. It’s an easy trap to fall into!

A polite gesture

A clear (and polite!) gesture to the driver behind may encourage a bit more patience. A raise of the hand to apologise or thank a driver after making a mistake (e.g. stalling) will often be appreciated and can very quickly eradicate any frustration or aggression on the part of the other driver(s). Be warned though, if the following driver is a bit further away, the exact meaning of the gesture may be misinterpreted!

Pull over

When driving myself, I will often pull over if I think a driver behind is becoming excessively agitated by my adherence to the speed limit. As professional drivers and instructors, we have to accept that other drivers don’t always like keeping to the speed limit.  It’s not our job to police, and by stopping the following driver from overtaking, we could actually encourage a much more dangerous situation to develop.

So, if someone is following dangerously close behind on a driving lesson, there’s always the option to pull over to allow let them pass. If the learner comes to accept this as a perfectly normal thing to do under certain circumstances, they will feel more in control and have a good coping strategy.  Better that than to have them constantly looking in the rear view mirror and worrying about the thoughts and feelings of the driver behind.

Reason it out

Putting yourself or your learner ‘in the shoes’ of the driver behind may help you and your learner empathise with the other driver’s thoughts and feelings. Could it be that the driver behind is late for work and has already been threatened with the sack if they turn up late one more time? Maybe he’s just got a call to say that his wife has been rushed into hospital? Maybe her child has had a nasty accident at school? Maybe they’re just desperate for the loo? The fact is, we’re not mind-readers, so we don’t know what is going on in the world of the other driver.

One day it may be us in a desperate rush to get somewhere and we might just drive a bit too close or take a risk we wouldn’t normally take. We’re not perfect, and neither is everyone else.  Recognise and accept it.

Make a choice

You can’t necessarily control aggressive tailgaters and the other driver’s behaviour, but you can control your own. If you choose to retaliate and show anger or aggression in return, you’ll suffer from palpitations and increased blood pressure.  You’ll be demonstrating exactly the type of behaviour that upset you in the first place.  And worse still, frowning encourages wrinkles! 😉

choiceOr, you can choose to be calm, not rise to it, remain neutral and enjoy the rest of your day… and suffer no extra wrinkles! The choice is yours.

Remember, if you have a pupil driving, you are a role model.  You have an invaluable opportunity to lead by example.  By remonstrating with other drivers and calling them ‘idiots’, ‘crap drivers’ (or worse), you are teaching them how to behave negatively behind the wheel.  That’s certainly not going to do them any favours once they pass their driving test and are driving independently.

down arrowAngry Drivers and Aggressive Tailgaters – So how do you cope when other drivers follow too closely, display aggression or do daft things? How do you encourage your pupil to deal with it? What are you going to try to minimise aggression from other drivers?  Please share your experiences and strategies in the comments box below so we can all learn from each other.  We LOVE hearing from you!
Finally, if you liked this article, please share it on Facebook and Twitter – simply hit one of the social media buttons below.  Thanks!

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  • Hi Guys

    Great article as always. I have just fitted MI Witness Cameras to my car and love them, i have also thought about a sign to back them up, now i will definitely consider this option too after ready this. I also use them as a teaching tool, as these ones have the wifi option and allows me to show my pupils cars/road users they may have missed. The feedback both for security and teaching has been great so fo.

    • Claire Wilmot

      That set up sounds really useful Marcus! You’ll have to let us know if having the sign makes a difference. 🙂

  • I don’t have camera’s fitted , I do have a sign in the rear window ” Back Off I Stick To The Limits ” but I do try and teach my pupil to control what they can control as said in the article as I find this helps them concentrate of their own driving performance rather than how others drive

    • Claire Wilmot

      I haven’t seen that sign before, is it effective? Good to hear you encourage your pupils to concentrate on their driving, it can be quite an ordeal for some more anxious drivers. I think others forget they weren’t born with a licence!

  • Kristine

    Good article:D I like the sound of camera stickers. I have had experience of impatient motorists, and verbal abuse can leave you and student feeling upset. I always try to to make light of it, and keep calm. i have only had verbal abuse from women drivers……. which I never expected.

    • Claire Wilmot

      Thanks Kristine! I think female instructors are more likely to get abuse from other female drivers,, would be interesting to hear if any male instructors get abuse from female drivers!

  • Jolly good read. The raised hand saying ‘thank you’ often works, slowing and moving over a bit to allow traffic to overtake combined with the left signal also works AND 90% of those who overtake acknowledge the gesture too.
    I have recently ditched the roof sign and have noticed a reduction in aggressive behaviour behind my car. Thinking about leaving the drivers door magnetic panel off too. This should allow my pupils to emerge left at T junctions easier !!
    As far as dealing with the aggressive following driver, i remind the pupil that they might be having a bad day, received bad news or be worried about something that is detracting and distracting them from driving safely. Always trying to get a +ve teaching point out of it.
    Furthermore I try to ensure that retaliation is not on the agenda as you never know what weapons they might have to hand.
    Finally I remind the pupil that someone somewhere probably loves them…….

    • Claire Wilmot

      Jolly good comment Nickolas! 😉

      Interesting to hear the feedback about your roof sign, thanks for sharing. Sounds like you have a fantastic approach to dealing with other drivers. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  • Nick

    I get this every day of the week and I’m getting really fed up. It feels like I’m being targeted, and it’s not just when I’m conducting a lesson; it’s when I’M driving home from one!

    During a lesson yesterday i could lip-read the driver behind me(it wasn’t pretty.) And his problem? We were doing the speed limit. By asking the pupil to pull up in this situation, are we not then enabling the following driver to break the speed limit and be a danger to everyone? Let’s face it, if it’s not us he targets then it’s going to be someone else, so should everyone pull up for this guy. . ?

    In my view, no amount (or lack) of signage is going to deter this breed of driver. A sticker or two wont make a leopard change his spots!

    Another good article to an all too common problem facing ADI’s and drivers alike. Thanks.


    • Claire Wilmot

      Glad you like the article Nick.

      I agree you shouldn’t have to pull over if you’re minding your own business doing the speed limit. It is just something I do as I’d rather have a bad driver in front of me where I can see him rather than behind me taking up my attention. If I can reduce the chances of someone running in the back of me I will.

      I even remember pulling into a car park just before a mini roundabout as I didn’t trust the driver behind me. Good job I did as he didn’t stop at all at the mini roundabout until he hit the lamp post on the other side! Rather the lamp post than me! A lucky escape. 🙂

  • Ken

    My friend and fellow ADI Dave, was being followed very closely for about a mile, when they came to a stop at a red light, Dave made sure his car was secure and told his pupil to sit tight he would be back shortly, he walked to the back of his car looked at the other driver and then down at the bumper of his car and the front of the following car while scratching his head, the driver opened his window and asked had he hit him as he had stopped so close, No said Dave I just wondered where the tow rope had gone. Oh said the other chap am I travelling to close, yes said Dave and when we clear the lights we will pull over so please go past. We hope he got the message..

    • Claire Wilmot

      That was a polite response from the following driver Ken! In some areas round Manchester, that would have resulted with an iron bar over the instructors head! Not everywhere in Manchester though! 😉

  • Michael pipe

    What a comprehensive article ! I have a tail guardian but don’t use it. At the stopping distance for 30 mph (23metres) it is too small to read. You have to get really close to it to be able to see the “pull back ” message and in my opinion is therefore useless.

    • Claire Wilmot

      Thanks Michael, they do look a bit small! Mind you, if someone is driving really close, maybe the message might work in getting them to back off a bit, even if it’s not as much as we would like. 🙂

  • I’ve purchased a mobius forward facing camera, picks up sound clearly too. Ideal evidence, very useful for the police

  • SAID


    • Claire Wilmot

      Thanks Said. 🙂

  • Ruth Jones

    If other drivers show aggression towards my pupils I encourage them to blank them out and concentrate on the job in hand, driving. I however, make eye contact in my rear view mirror, put on a massive grin and wave to say hello, sarcastic as it is, it works, the aggression disappears? Perhaps my intention of making them feel ridiculous for being impatient works? I like the idea of getting cameras though. I’ve noticed a growing number of motorbike riders with cameras mounted on their helmets in the area I live and work, so it’s obviously not just is ADI’s who experience the thoughtless actions of other road users

    • Claire Wilmot

      I can totally imagine you doing that Ruth! 😀

  • Darren Paine

    Great article,
    I’ve recently installed cameras in my car forward and rear facing. Expensive kit at £329 but worth every penny in my opinion. I’ve used them on a few lessons so far to review footage with my pupil if they’ve made any errors in road positioning or to show the correct course through a complex roundabout. Also captured quite a few incidents of bad practices by other drivers which could be used for tuition purposes at any time. I’m keen to try lessons without a roof box although my car is quite conspicuously branded anyway. I also need to get a more prominent sticker to convey the message that cameras are recording.
    Normally I use the raised hand/thank you gesture to placate a driver behind if I feel they are too close or if my pupil is being hesitant and we are holding them up a little too much, I find that this approach often has the desired effect. No matter what though there’s always going to be the clowns who will stop at nothing to ‘get past the learner’. It can be very frustrating 🙁

    • Claire Wilmot

      Thanks Darren, and thanks for sharing. You’ll have to let us know if you notice a difference if you do take your roof box off and if you get camera stickers put on.

  • All good advise, but what to do when you’ve pulled up then they pull up behind and get out?….

    Or start following you pointing for you to pull in? I really think I need a bat! Or maybe drive in nice areas…

    Time to hit the gym..

    • Claire Wilmot

      If that has happened to you John, it must have been scary! An ADI friend of mine had some guy box her in, get out, start hurling abuse and hitting her window! It took her a while to get over it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but maybe recording video footage on your camera if you get approached, lock your doors first, or call the police and give as much info as possible. Big muscles will probably help too!

  • Gavin Brownlie

    Why not use these situations to your advantage . by asking the pupil when the driver behind is behaving in such a manner. and bring in the higher levels of the GDE into the situation. Turn this into a learning situations and you as the ADI should to and explain that the pupil you are teaching could behave this way and try to get them to understand what a trigger point is and how not to get upset with other drivers

    • Claire Wilmot

      Yes Gavin, and if your using more of a coaching approach, you could ask the learner for their own strategies on coping with the driver behind rather than explaining yourself how not to get upset. They may come up with a way you wouldn’t have thought of!

  • Hate it when people tailgate, I normally try to wave them past if it is safe to do so, especially if it is a learners first few lessons. And if I hate it then it must be hell for the learner, I have even had one pupil tell me that they were speeding as they felt the car behind them was ‘egging them on’ as they was close and they wanted to get away from them, which also distracted there attention from stuff happening further ahead.

  • Martyn Loveridge

    The article was good, however has anyone else had trouble receiving the recomended Tailguardian products. I purchased a couple of signs on the 6th November, by the 21st nothing had come. I have spoken to someone on 3 occasions and even though he states he will put the window sign in the post (apparently he is awaiting the magnetic ones) nothing arrives.

    • Ged Wilmot

      Martyn, this causes me great concern – you are the second person to have said this. I will personally contact Kenny at TailGuardian and chase this for you. Until these matters are resolved fully, I will remove reference to the TailGuardian product. Many thanks for letting us know.

  • lizzie

    wow really helpful article !! I find female drivers more aggressive to me/my pupil then male drivers, some very helpful tips to help. I do get my pupils to try to ignore till we can deal with people behind safely, not always possible sometimes but I make sure learners are ready before I let them on the road to help them deal with other drivers 🙂

  • Seek

    I’m not sure if there is any ideal way to “deal with” violently aggressive tailgaters. Theirs is a sociopathic personality disorder, not just a driving disorder. They fully realize they are creating danger by following someone close behind at a high rate of speed. Yet their need to assert dominance over others in the present moment acts as a default setting.

    My best solution: Automatic license suspension for three months.

  • RealTruth

    Most women drivers are the Worst since many of them do tailgate.