I’ve been thinking about going into the bumper sticker business. Bumper stickers are not as popular as they once were but maybe I can bring them back with a few clever messages like TAILGATERS SUCK! As crude as the language is, maybe this is what it takes to get the attention of some people. I have a few other, even more graphic slogans in mind as well.

Until distracted driving came busting onto the scene and took the number one spot, tailgating had always been right up there in the top three killers. It’s in the number four spot now right after (1) distracted driving, (2) excessive speed and (3) drunk driving.

We’re not talking about your pre-game partiers here with beer and barbecue. This is about drivers who follow too close. Let me tell you a little story about a tailgater. Think about this the next time you decide it’s ok to follow too close:

Craig is 18 years old. He’s a nice young man, good athlete, intelligent and well-liked by his friends and classmates. He’s just about to graduate and has been seriously working on getting an appointment to the Naval Academy. He has his sights on a military career.

Jason is 30 years old, married and has two young kids. He majored in Engineering in college and upon graduation went to work for the state highway department in their regional office here. He plans to make it to the top eventually but at present is still at mid-level and pulls down about $50 thousand a year.

At eight AM on Tuesday morning Jason and Craig are both driving west on Daly Drive, a popular route for the morning commute. Jason is dropping the kids at school and then will head for work. Craig is on his way to an early band practice. This is a two-lane roadway with traffic in both directions and, because not too many cops patrol it, drivers tend to drive too fast here. The posted speed limit is 40 mph. Most are driving 50 or more. This morning the roadway is dry, the weather is clear and the traffic is lighter than usual.

Wanting to set a good example for his kids, Jason is in the habit of always obeying the speed limit. Craig is late for practice though, forgets what his Drivers Ed instructor told him and starts to follow too close thinking this will make Jason speed up. Sensing danger, the driver ahead will usually slow down in this situation so Craig has accomplished exactly the opposite of what he wanted. He’s so close behind that he doesn’t see the chair fall off the pickup truck ahead. Jason has to brake hard. Craig can’t stop in time and crashes into him from behind.

The cars don’t appear to be too badly damaged. Both drivers were buckled in and seem to be ok. They get out of their cars. Jason takes a couple of steps toward Craig but then his right leg gives out and he falls to the pavement. Something is wrong. He struggles, grimaces with pain and can’t seem to get up. Craig calls 911 and shortly an ambulance and patrol car arrive.

While Jason is tended to the officers interview Craig. They want to know why he ran into the other car. Craig tries to come up with a reasonable excuse but there is none and he knows it. He is cited for following too close and ordered to appear in court. He knows he made a mistake and is willing to accept the consequences. He goes to court and the judge orders a hefty fine. His dad helps him pay the fine and they think it’s all over. Craig is totally unprepared for what comes next.

A few weeks after the collision Craig opens an official looking envelope and learns that he is being sued. Then comes the real shocker. He’s being sued for $3 million! “What in the world is this all about,” thinks Craig, “it was just a little rear-ender.” He reads on. It seems that Jason has been diagnosed with serious neck and back injuries resulting from the crash and will never again be able to perform the work for which he was trained. It’s called “whiplash” and it’s almost impossible to disprove. In this case it’s a legitimate claim but, why so much money?

Jason has an estimated 40 working years left. At $50 thousand per year that totals $2 million. Throw in another million for income adjustments, cost of living increases, medical expenses and other stuff that lawyers always come up with and there you have it. Craig will be paying for his momentary impatience for the rest of his life. And we haven’t even mentioned his own attorneys fees, the increased cost of his insurance and how all this could affect that military career he had his heart set on.

There is no excuse good enough for running into another car from behind. Rear-end collisions occur because the driver following was (1) following to close, (2) driving too fast for conditions, or (3) distracted or impaired. For those of us who drive bigger and heavier vehicles and tow things it becomes even more important to be alert and aware; to maintain sufficient following distances; to be traveling at appropriate speeds for existing conditions; and to fully understand the capabilities and limitations of our vehicles. By doing otherwise we create circumstances in which we can seriously injure or kill ourselves and/or others and like Craig pay for our mistake for the rest of our lives.

Here’s another idea for a bumper sticker. “WHERE IS IT WRITTEN THAT YOU HAVE TO DRIVE LIKE YOUR (you choose a word) IS ON FIRE? I’m getting one made for my motorhome. It’ll go right next to my “USC TROJANS” bumper sticker.

This isn’t about learning to drive . . . this is about staying alive!

See you next time, I hope!

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