Flash tailgaters to back off? Technically OK — with a caveat

Amber is the golden color for a reader’s idea. But a trooper warns it still might not be wise.

Tailgating is a common pet peeve.

Don Bakker, of Marysville, has an idea to send a message to those who conveniently forget the law about following too close.

“There’s some pretty aggressive drivers out there,” Bakker said.

And having been rear-ended three times in the last 15 years, it’s a particular concern for him. He’s tried flashing his hazard lights at tailgaters, but that’s had mixed success.

How about a button or switch he could push to engage a flashing amber light on the back of the car to let them know to back off?

I long harbored dreams of putting an electronic message board in my back window to display helpful messages. “Your headlights are off.” “Your blinker is on.” OK, or not so polite. “Back off, wouldja?”

Turns out such brilliance is against the law.

I figured Bakker’s plan would fall to the same not-so-much pile.

But as it turns out, his plan is somewhat doable — with one important caveat.

The light does have to be amber.

“That’s kind of the catch-all color that’s acceptable,” Washington State Patrol trooper Heather Axtman said.

Red, blue, white and green are all off-limits. “But you can have amber,” she said.

There are other considerations, however, she noted.

If the light blinds other drivers, it would be illegal.

If another driver perceives you are trying to impersonate a law enforcement officer, that would get you in trouble too.

Flashing your hazard lights achieves the same goal, she said.

But either way?

“My advice to people who are frustrated by aggressive drivers is pull over and let them pass,” Axtman said.

Challenging aggressive drivers can escalate problems, and lead to a lack of attentive driving on your part.

“It’s not worth it,” she said. “Don’t take matters into your own hands. That’s what your cellphone is for — to get us notified.”

Drivers can use their cellphone to call 911 in situations like this. Note the aggressive driver’s license plate number if you can.

Of course, not all instances of tailgating is a result of aggression. Sometimes we’re just not paying attention. (Guilty.)

So while we’re on the topic, let’s review following distance.

The Washington Driver Guide recommends a following time of two to three seconds at speeds of 30 mph or less, and the four-second rule at higher speeds. Certain conditions require greater distance, including slippery roads.

A final side note…

This topic has applications beyond pet peeves.

Like to festoon your vehicle with Christmas lights for the holidays? It’s OK. As long as they’re all amber.

(More Halloween, methinks.)

Got a great idea? Reach out to streetsmarts@heraldnet.com.

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