Following Too Closely (Tailgating) in New Jersey (N.J.S.A. 39:4-89)

Author: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq. | Last Updated:

In driver’s education classes, many instructors teach students that they should be one car length behind the vehicle in front for every 10 mph of speed. This lesson is not just about safety—it’s also about New Jersey’s tailgating law. Unfortunately, the statute that covers following other vehicles (39:4-89) does not describe a specific distance as “too close.” Here’s what drivers need to know if they have been ticketed for tailgating in New Jersey.

What Are the Penalties for Tailgating in New Jersey?

  • Fine: New Jersey imposes a fine of $50 to $200 upon conviction for tailgating.
  • Points: New Jersey’s Motor Vehicles Commission (MVC) considers tailgating to be a serious violation and adds 5 points to the license of any driver convicted of this violation. As such, a tailgating conviction can easily trigger a yearly surcharge (at 6+ points) or license suspension (at 12 points).
  • Court costs: Challenging one’s tailgating ticket in NJ requires drivers to pay $33 in court costs.
  • Surcharge: A driver who reaches 6 points or more on their license (easy to do with a tailgating ticket) will be obligated to pay a surcharge of $150 plus $25 for each point over six. This surcharge will be billed annually for three years.
  • Auto insurance increase: Tailgating carries a serious risk of a collision and potential insurance claim. Thus, getting convicted for tailgating can potentially raise premiums. One study estimates that tailgating tickets can increase car insurance rates by about 13%.
  • Jail time: In rare instances, drivers can be sentenced to 15 days in jail for tailgating in NJ. Most judges do not impose this penalty, but some may consider it if the driver’s actions are particularly heinous, he/she shows little or no remorse for his/her actions in court, or he/she has a long history of serious traffic offenses, among other reasons.

What Does New Jersey Consider Tailgating?

The statute for tailgating, N.J.S.A. 39:4-89

Following; space between trucks reads as follows:

The driver of a vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to the speed of the preceding vehicle and the traffic upon, and condition of, the highway.

The driver of a motor truck when traveling upon a highway, outside of a business or residence district, shall not follow another motor truck within one hundred feet, but this shall not be construed to prevent one motor truck overtaking and passing another.

By defining following too closely as “more closely than is reasonable and prudent,” much of what is considered tailgating is left to the discretion of the officer. Assuming road conditions are normal and the weather is clear, most drivers can use one of two metrics to ensure they are not “too close.” One is the car length/10 mph distance mentioned above. The other is what’s known as the 3-second rule; the driver selects a random stationary object (tree, speed limit sign, etc.) and counts the number of seconds from when the vehicle ahead reaches the object to when the driver’s vehicle reaches it.

Either rule may keep a driver from getting a tailgating ticket under normal circumstances. However, on wet roads or in inclement weather such as snow or fog, a greater distance may be needed.

Can My License Be Suspended for Tailgating?

A suspended license is not listed as a penalty for tailgating. However, it is possible for one to have their license revoked under 39:5-31. This law allows judges to take away driving privileges when he/she deems the driver to be guilty of a “willful violation” of the law. In other words, the judge feels the driver is deliberately breaking the law for some reason.

Of course, even if the driver has not committed a “willful violation,” the number of points imposed as a result of the conviction can easily put a driver over the 12-point threshold for an automatic suspension.

Defenses to Tailgating in New Jersey

There are many ways to defend against a tailgating ticket in New Jersey. The exact defense will depend on the unique circumstances of the case. For example, in La Mandri v. Carr, two cars collided on a rainy day on the Garden State Parkway. The defendant was issued a ticket for tailgating as a result of the accident. However, she was able to prove via witness testimony and testimony of the other driver that the accident was not the result of driving too closely, but rather because the other driver had been swerving in and out of lanes after losing control of the vehicle.

In some cases, it may not be possible to win a dismissal of tailgating charges outright. Instead, it is worth considering when to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the ticket to a lower-point or no-point offense, such as careless driving or unsafe driving. This is known as a plea bargain and many prosecutors are willing to work with a driver (or preferably his/her attorney) to negotiate traffic tickets.

Tailgating Tickets and Traffic Accidents

Tailgating is a common citation issued to drivers following an auto accident. When an accident is associated with a tailgating ticket, it is even more imperative that the case be handled carefully. A plea of guilty to tailgating can be used in a personal injury lawsuit as evidence that the tailgating driver was at fault in an accident and liable for any injuries or other damages. Even if the ticket is reduced via a plea bargain, the conviction could still potentially be used against the driver. If there is little or no possibility of getting the ticket dismissed or being acquitted of a charge of tailgating, the next best option is to plead guilty with a civil reservation. By requesting a civil reservation, a driver is able to prevent a traffic conviction from being used in a related civil lawsuit, including a personal injury suit stemming from an auto accident. Be sure to consult with an attorney before deciding how to proceed.

Why Hire an Attorney for a New Jersey Tailgating Ticket?

A tailgating ticket is one of the more serious traffic tickets a person can get in New Jersey. Judges take a charge of tailgating seriously and do not look kindly on drivers who take those kinds of risks. As such, a driver who attempts to challenge a tailgating ticket is at a serious disadvantage when presenting arguments before a judge and prosecutor. Under most circumstances, a driver’s testimony is considered less reliable than that of the officer who issued the ticket.

This is where having a skilled traffic ticket attorney can be a real advantage. An attorney will be able to determine the best possible strategy to minimize or eliminate the penalties associated with the ticket. If the attorney has a good reputation, the judge will take his/her arguments seriously and likely weigh them equally to those of the officer. An experienced attorney will also know how to question an officer to draw out inconsistencies and his/her testimony.

Common Questions About Tailgating in New Jersey

  • Why is tailgating considered dangerous? Following a vehicle too closely limits the amount of time a driver has to slow down when the vehicle in front slows down. The closer the following car, the less time there is to react. Further, the faster the cars are moving, the more time is needed to reduce speed. A driver that cannot reduce speed quickly enough could strike the vehicle in front of it, causing a rear-end collision. Rear-end crashes can cause serious neck injuries (or worse) to the driver and/or passenger(s) in the lead vehicle. Also, the widespread use of crumple zones in cars means even a low-speed collision can result in a costly insurance claim.
  • How close is considered tailgating? There is no hard-and-fast rule as to how close is too close. Most drivers are taught the three-second rule or to keep one car-length’s distance per 10 mph. However, in difficult road conditions, even this may be too close.
  • What can I do about a car tailgating me? For the most part, when a driver is being tailgated, the best advice is to stay calm and move to the right. If moving to the right is not possible, simply maintain a steady speed—do not speed up or slow down. Eventually, the tailgater will pass when he/she feels comfortable doing so.
  • Is tailgating considered careless driving? In common terms, tailgating is careless behavior. Legally speaking, tailgating is more serious than just careless driving.

Who Should I Contact About My NJ Tailgating Ticket?

It is essential that you retain an attorney if you or someone you love has been ticketed for tailgating or any other serious traffic offense in New Jersey. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled defense and traffic ticket attorneys who can help you mitigate or avoid the worst consequences. Email Rosenblum Law or Call 888-883-5529 today for a free consultation about your case.