All states have laws that prohibit drivers from following another vehicle too closely—also known as tailgating or failing to maintain a safe distance. The penalty for following too closely usually includes a fine and points on your driver’s license.
Laws vary from state to state but laws against following too closely generally prohibit:
• following another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, having due regard for the speed of both vehicles and the traffic and road conditions at the time; or
• when traveling upon a roadway outside of a business or residence district, following within two hundred feet of another vehicle.
Following too closely may also be defined as situations in which one vehicle is following another vehicle so closely that even if the following driver is attentive to the actions of the vehicle ahead, the driver of the following vehicle could not avoid a collision if the driver in front brakes suddenly.
As with many traffic violations, the officer issuing the citation and the prosecutor have significant discretion in determining whether there was a violation of a traffic law and whether the violation constitutes a certain offense, as defined by the state legislature in the traffic code or in a municipal ordinance.
This discretion to issue a ticket or citation and prosecute the charge against the driver is balanced by the discretion of the jury or judge in determining whether the prosecution met its burden of proof sufficient to convict the driver (for a criminal offense) or find the driver responsible (for a civil infraction, violation, or offense).