Motorists caught speeding could get themselves off the hook by using a clever tactic revealed by a lawyer.
The simple excuse used in court means a fine or license points could be escaped by those collared driving over the speed limit.
Called the “special reason” argument, Emma Patterson, principal solicitor at specialist motoring offence lawyers Patterson Law, said it often worked in court, despite not being commonly employed.
“We deal with a number of these cases every year in similar circumstances. It’s not as uncommon as you might think,” Emma told BristolLive.
“Simply put, on occasions the court will agree that there are special reasons for not imposing penalty points or discretionary disqualification based on somebody tailgating the offending driver, and them needing to speed up briefly in order to extricate themselves from a potentially dangerous situation.
“It flows from a guilty plea, as part of the sentencing exercise, and empowers the magistrates not to give penalty points or discretionary disqualification.”
A survey by UK car leasing firm Select Car Leasing recently found that a third of motorists (32 per cent) claimed drivers driving too close behind them was their biggest road-related fear.
Drivers who do end up being caught breaking the speed limit because they’re afraid of a tailgater, can use this reason to convince the court they had no other alternative other than to put their foot down.
“We can argue ‘special reasons’ to avoid penalty points or disqualification in similar circumstances – whether that involves another driver or an unmarked police vehicle doing the ‘tailgating’,” explained Emma.
“A special reasons argument is like a mini-trial in relation to sentencing.
“It has to relate to why the offence occurred, rather than mitigating circumstances in relation to the individual’s personal predicament or need to be able to drive.
“Special reasons also need to be established by the defendant on the balance of probabilities.
“If the magistrates agree that there are special reasons then they will not impose any penalty points or discretionary disqualification.
“And these arguments tend to succeed better when there is no alternative. It is all about convincing the court that this was the only way they could extricate themselves from a potentially dangerous situation.
“If it would have been just as easy for the offender to pull into another lane to avoid the tailgater, then special reasons won’t be found.”
Emma said motorists could also argue a similar defence if they broke the speed limit briefly in order to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle.
Mark Tongue of Select Car Leasing said the guidance could offer reassurance to the millions of motorists who are often caught like a rabbit in the headlights when faced with an aggressive tailgater.
“This isn’t about giving carte blanche to motorists so that they can break the speed limit at the first sign of an approaching car,” he said.
“But it is reassuring to know that the courts do recognise just how intimidating tailgating can be, and that they also recognise that a motorist might wish to take evasive action in order to get away from the offender and rid themselves of a potentially life-threatening situation.
“Knowing that it can be reasonable to break the law, albeit briefly, so you can move into a different lane, may give some shred of comfort to the millions of motorists blighted by these so-called ‘space invaders’.”
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Punishments for tailgating range from a £100 fine and three penalty points to a driving ban and even a prison sentence if the tailgating causes an accident.
The Highway Code states that motorists should leave a two-second gap between cars. The two seconds comprise the time needed for thinking and stopping. When it’s raining, that gap should be at least doubled.
Highways England launched a ‘Space Invaders’ campaign last year, urging motorists to take greater care with their stopping distances.
A spokesperson said at the time: “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 sudden.
“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 dead. We want everyone to travel safely, so the advice is – stay safe, stay back.”
Worryingly, tailgating is widespread across the UK. An independent poll of 1,000 motorists by Select Car Leasing found almost one in 10 – eight per cent of men and six per cent of women – said they had deliberately tailgated as an act of “revenge”, because the rival motorist had “behaved poorly” towards them.
Meanwhile seven per cent of women and six per cent of men admitted to accidentally tailgating without realising they were doing it.
Overall, a third thought that tailgating had become more of an issue in the UK in the last five years than in previous eras, and symptomatic of more aggressive driver behaviour in general.
“Tailgating is moronic, disrespectful and downright dangerous,” Mr Tongue added. “The fact that you can sometimes break the law in order to escape a tailgater illustrates just how terrifying it can be for a great many drivers.
“And if you’re guilty of doing it yourself, you need to take a long, hard look at your behaviour behind the wheel.”