Quiet Desperation

Being tailgated — there’s something stupid behind it


The first recorded incident of following at an unsafe distance occurred about an hour after the invention of the automobile.

Understandably, that wouldn’t have been possible, but it probably didn’t take long after automobiles were first on the roads in America before one driver tailgated another driver.

In the 21st century, following too closely is inevitable, likely, honored, addictive and routine.

There are tailgating associations and clubs and cults.

I am not a member, but I suffer the consequences of their missions nevertheless.

Their mission statements all start with the same mantra: “Trust your brakes.”

I despise tailgaters.

I have no recourse. Agitating a tailgater, who has zero sense of road intelligence to begin with, furthers the problem, solves nothing, and leads to unwanted consequences.

The opposition to this thinking is that I am an elderly, overly conservative driver who forgets to turn off his turn signal, and loiters in the left lane.

It’s not true. I am — still — a conscientious driver.

Conscientious drivers make up less than half of the drivers on I-25.

Everyone is in a hurry.

Would that everyone left for work five or 10 minutes earlier and didn’t mash the gas pedal, but it doesn’t work that way.

We are stimulated to speed by glamorizing advertisements and glamorizing films.

Have you ever seen Steve McQueen in “Bullitt”?

Varoom with a view.

In 1966, my father bought a second car for my sister and me. It was a midnight blue Mustang.

There was a small plate on the side of the car that said “289.”

That meant nothing to me, but it seemed to mean something to my friends.

One asked, “What’s your zero to 60?”


People change in their automobiles. A demure secretary the size of a Pimlico jockey becomes Danica.

I have never watched or attended an automobile race. Complete waste of time. Millions of others don’t see it that way.

There have been auto races as long as there have been autos. Starting in the 1950s, drag races were popular and popularized in films like “Rebel Without a Cause” and “American Graffiti.”

It wasn’t a coincidence that a slew of car-related songs came out not long afterwards. The most prominent ones were recorded by the Beach Boys, but there were others by Jan and Dean, the Rip Cords, and Ronnie and the Daytonas.

Life imitated art in 1966, when Jan Berry suffered a severe head injury in a road accident not far from “Dead Man’s Curve.”

(Berry died in 2014; Dean Torrence is 78.)

Nothing good happens when someone is tailgated, and many bad things can happen.

Road rage, accidents, injuries, inconvenience, rental cars, insurance rates. Oh, and death.

It doesn’t seem to matter.

I know, I know. There’s a warning on a pack of cigarettes, but close to 400 billion cigarettes are smoked in America every year.

Alcohol comes with many of the same warnings, and similar consequences, but we continue to drink.

Here’s the difference, unless you drink and drive, you’re only affecting your own health.

If you tailgate me, you’re affecting my health, and Jennifer’s and Harry’s.

This little dab of words won’t change anyone’s behavior. I know that. We’re simply not that smart.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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