Highways England has launched a new campaign to tackle the problem of drivers driving too close to the car in front called ‘Don’t Be a Space Invader’.

This comes after new statistics from an independent study that involved 1,200 motorists revealed that the issue of tailgating is far more serious than a nuisance. Previous research had shown it to be one of drivers’ chief bugbears.

The survey was conducted by Select Car Leasing. It showed that tailgating caused distress and fear for drivers, more so than the fear of a crash. 32% of respondents said ‘drivers driving too close behind me’ was their biggest on the road fear.

In fact, tailgating was ahead of breaking down 31%, being crashed into 25% and getting lost 22%.

The reasons for tailgating were also explored as a part of the survey with nearly one in 10 men and one in 20 women stating they had deliberately tailgated as ‘revenge’ for a motorist ‘behaving poorly’ towards them.

Some acts of tailgating were not deliberate, with 6% of men and 7% of women stating they had done so without even realising. The study concluded that 33% of drivers think tailgating has become more of an issue in the last five years.

Mark Tongue, Director of Select Car Leasing, said: “As part of its research into the issue, Highways England says that tailgating is the ‘biggest single bugbear’ that drivers have about other road users. But our research shows that the problem runs much deeper than that - it’s not just a nuisance, it can be also be absolutely terrifying for some motorists.”

The Don’t Be a Space Invader campaign from Highways England used dashcams, facial recognition, emotion tracking and heart monitors to discover a driver’s typical reaction to someone who tailgates them. They found these ranged between ‘surprise, anger and contempt’, with a spike in heart rate.

Tongue said: “We need to add ‘fear’, ‘dread’ and ‘terror’ into the mix, too, as these are also emotions that go hand in hand with tailgating.

“If you’re driving along, at the speed limit, and someone is an inch behind your rear bumper and acting in an aggressive manner, it can be extremely intimidating.

“If tailgating is a persistent source of terror, drivers will be nervous about it happening before they even put the key in the ignition.

“Tailgating is simply not acceptable - full stop. And if you’re guilty of doing it, you need to understand just how much emotional harm and distress you could be causing.”

According to data from Highways England, 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.

Head of Road Safety at Highways England, Richard Leonard said: “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.

“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.”

The Highway Code states that you should leave a two-second gap between cars—time needed for thinking and stopping. When it’s raining, it’s advised that the gap should be at least doubled.

Tailgating can result in punishments that range from a £100 fine and three penalty points to a driving ban or prison sentence.