One in eight casualties on England’s motorways and major A-roads are caused by tailgating, according to new analysis.
Highways England, which manages the roads, said more than 100 people are killed or seriously injured each year in accidents where a vehicle has driven too close to the one in front.
The government-owned company believes only a small minority of tailgating is deliberate, with many drivers simply unaware they are dangerously invading someone else’s space.
It has launched a campaign named Don’t Be A Space Invader, which is based on the popular arcade game.
The Highway Code says drivers should allow at least a two-second gap between vehicles, which is doubled on wet roads.
More than one in four drivers in England admit they have driven so close to the car in front it may have been difficult to stop in an emergency in the last three months, according to a poll of 1,109 people.
This suggests that millions of drivers are tailgating on the country’s roads.
Additional in-car research using dashcams, facial recognition, emotion tracking and heart monitors revealed that a driver’s typical reaction to being tailgated is surprise, anger and contempt, with a spike in heart rate.
Tailgating was identified as the biggest single bugbear that drivers have about other road users.
The Don’t Be A Space Invader campaign is supported by former Formula 1 world champion Nigel Mansell, who is president of road safety charity IAM RoadSmart.
He said: “Tailgating is a driving habit I utterly deplore. Not only is it aggressive and intimidating, but it can lead to a crash with a tragic outcome.
“There is absolutely no upside to it. You will not get to your destination faster, you are not a skilled driver for doing it, and you are putting so many innocent people at risk.”
Richard Leonard, head of road safety at Highways England, said: “Tailgating 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.”