Tailgating No. 1 cause of Indiana crashes

Only 1% of tickets for following too closely

INDIANAPOLIS - The number one cause of crashes in Indiana is not texting while driving, speeding, distracted driving, unsafe backing, failing to yield or falling asleep at the wheel.

The unsafe driver behavior causing the most wrecks is following too closely, yet the infraction makes up 1 percent of the tickets issued by Indiana State Police, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.

Kenney analyzed crash data as well as every ticket issued by ISP for the past two years and found 3,271 citations issued statewide for following too closely in 2013, and 2,034 tickets written for following too closely in 2014.

"Following too closely is kind of a fish in the barrel type violation," said ISP Capt. Dave Bursten. "We are not going to stop every following-too-closely violation we see. We would do nothing else."

The Call 6 Investigators mounted their car with cameras during the morning rush hour and found most drivers were tailgating.

Bursten said the agency has to weigh a following-too-closely violation with other infractions and calls.

"Following too closely happens every day, and it happens to every driver," Bursten said. "People typically don't get a ticket for following too close. Usually you find out about it when you have a crash."

Bursten said drivers have become accustomed to driving close to other drivers, and they aren't thinking about the danger.

A 2012 study found rear end crashes were the most common type of collision in Indiana with 45,330 a year, although the rate of serious injury is lower than other types of crashes, such as head on collisions and running off the road.

Bill Chesser of Cicero knows the danger of following too closely.

"All of sudden, bang," Chesser said.

He was rear ended while stopping for traffic on Emerson Avenue.

"It happened out of the blue," Chesser said. "I didn't even know the guy was back there until he hit me."

Treva Richerson of Westville also got hit from behind.

"There was really no sound until it hit me," Richerson said. "It scared the hell out of me."

The crash reports for both Chesser and Richerson list following too closely as the contributing factor.

And they're not alone.

In 2014, Indiana State Police documented 32,326 crashes in which following too closely was the primary factor, up from 31,300 in 2013.

The Call 6 Investigators obtained crash photos showing the aftermath of crashes caused by tailgating, and had to blur some of them due to disturbing images.

MORE PHOTOS | Which #RoadRisk caused these crashes?

Data analyzed from November 2014 shows tailgating crashes happen most often on major thoroughfares like I-465 and I-65.

The Call 6 Investigators got video of a four-car chain-reaction crash on Jan. 15, caused by tailgating on southbound I-65 just north of downtown.

"People just following too closely… is a huge issue," said Trooper Shana Kennedy at the scene.

The Call 6 Investigators followed up and learned even though three of the four vehicles were found to be tailgating, none of the drivers received a ticket for following too closely.

Kennedy said a prosecutor is unlikely to file charges unless a trooper witnessed the crash.

"If I'm not there, and I didn't witness it, they're not going to file charges," Kennedy said.

Bursten said they're more likely to write a ticket if a driver is acting aggressively, such as tailgating and speeding, or weaving in and out of traffic.

"How do you impact someone? By taking money out of their wallet," Bursten said.

The maximum fine for following too closely is $500.

If you cause a crash and hurt someone, your house and bank account could also be at risk, especially if you only have minimum insurance.

"Having insurance does not protect you from having your personal assets seized in a lawsuit, if in fact you caused more harm than you have insurance," said personal injury attorney Kenneth J. Allen. "If they cause $100,000 in harm and have $25,000 insurance, they can be held to account for the whole amount."

Bursten said a safe distance at highway speeds is five car lengths between you and the car in front of you.

"You can also use the two second rule and count one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, and if you pass that point before you get to two, you're probably following too close," Bursten said.

As for Bill Chesser and Treva Richerson, they are still struggling to overcome their injuries from the rear-end crashes.

"Eventually, I'm going to need surgery," Richerson said.

They look in their rear view mirrors a lot more these days, and want drivers to understand the damage they can cause.

"Your reactions are not as fast as you think they are," Chesser said. "Back off."

Police say if someone is riding your bumper, resist the urge to tap your brakes.

"Don't get caught up in a tit for tat, aggressive type action," Bursten said. "Go ahead and safely move over and get out of their way."

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