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(Dmitriy Eremenkov/Getty Images/Hemera)
(Dmitriy Eremenkov/Getty Images/Hemera)

Driving Concerns

If the car behind flashes its high beams, do I legally have to move over? Add to ...

I was driving in foggy conditions when a car behind me sped up and started flashing its headlights. Please explain what I could have done in that situation. It was nerve-racking, but I kept going to reach the red light ahead. – Preetika

That jerk on your tail is a distraction you don’t need on a foggy road – if you can, it’s best to get out of his way if you can.

“If there’s no one in front and you’re going below the speed limit, I might consider moving over if you can or getting off onto the next side street,” said Angelo DiCicco, Young Drivers of Canada general manager. “Get rid of the cognitive distraction – because, right now, most of your attention is on the cars behind you when it should be on avoiding the moose in front.”

But, legally, you don’t have to get out of anyone’s way just because they’re flashing their high beams.

“It’s a common public roadway and we all pay taxes – this driver has decided they’re going the appropriate speed considering their physical and mental capabilities and the road conditions,” DiCicco said. “It’s like a park – if someone on a swing is going a little slower than you are, they have to respect that because they got there first.”

If it’s a multi-lane highway, most provinces have rules saying slower traffic should keep right. But it’s police, not other drivers, who decide who’s blocking traffic.

And, if it’s dark out, they could get charged with dazzling you. In Ontario, for instance, section 168 of the Highway Traffic Act says it’s illegal to flash your high beams at another driver who’s less than 60 metres (about 12 car lengths) in front of you.

End of daze

Being tailgated is no party, especially in lousy weather. Are there other ways to tame a flasher in the fog?

“If this driver intelligently deduced that she was going as fast as she could, then she really couldn’t have done a lot more,” DiCicco said. “She could have sped up – but the 25-year-old male with fog lights and 500-hp would have speed up also – so speeding up wouldn’t have helped at all.”

There’s also the possibility that the jerk lurking behind you isn’t intentionally a jerk. He might not realize how bright his lights are or how close he is – especially if you’re in a smaller hatchback.

“He might not know he’s big and intimidating and standing behind Hillary Clinton and it just looks bad – or he may have been doing it intentionally to get her to speed up,” DiCicco said. “But trying to project is ludicrous because you barely know what you want for dinner, let alone what the person behind you is thinking.”

How close should he be behind you? Again, the rules vary. Alberta Transportation suggests one car length for every 10 to 20 km/h. Saskatchewan Government Insurance suggests three seconds between vehicles, while the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia suggests two seconds. And that’s in ideal road conditions.

“The rule of thumb is – two seconds following distance in the city and three on freeways,” DiCicco said. “Very few people can say what five metres or 10 metres is while moving, but they can count to three – when the car in front of you passes a sign on the side of the road, you start counting, ‘one one-thousand, two one-thousand.’”

Tailgating slows down traffic

Getting closer to the slowpoke in front of you might actually slow them – and everybody else – down.

Giving the car in front of you more space can actually let traffic flow more smoothly, William Beaty, a Seattle engineer who posts jam-busting techniques at trafficwaves.org, told the Wall Street Journal.

“You push ahead, and you think if everybody would just push ahead, then everyone would go faster,” Beatty said. “[But] it just turns the road into a parking lot.”

Similarly, if there are cars behind you and you can safely go faster, then you should, DiCicco said.

“It’s not illegal to go slower under bad road conditions – it’s a good thing,” DiCicco said. “But it’s problematic to slow traffic under road conditions when you could be going faster – your responsibility is to keep traffic flowing.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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