Dear Tom and Ray:
I need help. I am married to a bonehead. My husband insists on pulling practically into the trunk of cars in front of him. Moving, stopped -- it doesn't matter. At stoplights, not only does he pull to within inches of the car in front, but he insists on starting to move forward the nanosecond the light turns green. Whether there's one or four cars in front of him, it doesn't matter. His excuse is that he is overcoming "inertia" and that it makes no sense to wait until everyone has started moving before he starts moving. He claims "study after study has proven this." I have yet to figure out what is supposedly proven and where these so-called studies have been published. I have tried time and again to point out that this tailgating is dangerous and that he is not allowing for the fact that the person in front of him might be an even bigger knucklehead than he is. What is this "overcoming inertia" thing? What possible purpose does it serve? And can I politely (or otherwise) tell him he is full of bovine scatology?
Tom: Lois, you have our utmost sympathy.
Ray: Unfortunately, your husband is technically correct about the whole "inertia" thing. But the way he's trying to address the problem is reminiscent of the way Don Quixote goes after his windmills.
Tom: Traffic studies have shown that when traffic stops and starts, it moves slower than if it never stops. Think about it. Each driver (at least, each non-knucklehead driver) has to wait for the driver in front of him to start moving again before he can start moving. Multiply those delays by the number of cars, and you get slow-moving traffic.
Ray: Some engineers have tried to address the issue by limiting the number of cars on a roadway. You may have seen highway entrances where you wait at the end of the ramp for a green light. That's an attempt to keep traffic on that roadway from becoming so dense that it stops and starts.
Tom: But your husband has no way of addressing this problem by himself. He's one drop of water, and he's trying to stop Niagara Falls.
Ray: By being so impatient and trying to "keep the traffic moving" himself, he's only going to bang into another driver's bumper. In fact, by the time you read this, he may already have rung up a few thousand dollars in body work.
Tom: And when he does, that'll give you your opportunity for revenge, Lois. When the other guy gets out of his car and comes back to angrily ask your husband what he was doing tailgating like that, you can pipe up and say, "Tell him about the studies, Frank."
Ray: He's technically right, but you need to emphasize that this is not a problem that's within his power to solve. So, tell him he's right in order to soothe his ego, but plead with him to stop his silly and dangerous behavior before somebody gets hurt. Or gets Ex-Lax in his chocolate pudding.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk Web site.)