How to Keep a Proper Following Distance When Driving

February 16, 2021

Time and again, rear-end collisions take the top prize for being the most common type of vehicle accident. That’s why how to keep a proper following distance when driving can never be overemphasized.

Fancy this. You are driving, with 2 seconds between you and the car in front. Suddenly, the car in front stops without even signaling. Maybe it spotted a deer that just jumped across the road, or a drunken or suicidal pedestrian ran to the road.

Why Keep a Following Distance?

It could also be that the car in front developed a serious mechanical problem. Anything can happen to the car in front.

Because you were not expecting the sudden stop, it takes 2 seconds to register in your mind, one second for your brain to trigger the right response, and another one for you to press the emergency brake, which takes another second to pull the car.

The car takes half a second to come to a halt. Now, remember only 2 seconds separated you from the car in front. It means by the time your car actually stops, it already rammed into the car in front 2.5 seconds ago.

If it’s a serious accident, you may not be conscious by the time your car stops. That’s why seconds mean so much on the road.

What else have we learned here? When an incidence occurs, your reaction is not automatic, and so it cannot be as instantaneous as you would hope for.

Other factors come to play: reaction time, braking time, and stopping distance.

Reaction Time

This is the time it takes you to beware of and react to the potential danger ahead of you. We have seen how the few seconds you have could be critical.

Braking Distance

It is the distance your car travels before coming to a full stop when you apply the brake. The difference may be as short as milliseconds but long enough to run you into danger literally.

Stopping Distance

This is now the sum of time from the moment you perceive a potential danger to the time your car stops. Therefore, the stopping distance should accommodate all the chain of reactions that leads to stopping to avoid the danger. These are: the reaction time/distance and braking distance.

The stopping distance, in turn, determines the following distance. The longer your stopping distance, the wider your following distance should be.

What is the Safe Distance between You and the car in front?

In everyday situations, you should maintain three seconds between your car’s front bumper and the car in front’s rear bumper.

It has been calculated and certified that 3 seconds is enough for you to react in time to stop your car before colliding with the car in front. That is, in normal circumstances when the road is clear, dry, smooth and your car is in the best condition.

How Can You Mentally Measure Following Distance?

Do you have to keep checking the time to ascertain that you are indeed maintaining the proper following distance? Not always. In fact, checking the time could be counter-productive, especially on a busy road. You might end up breaking another traffic rule while immersed in the proper following distance.

Here is the trick that works perfectly for many drivers determined to keep the right following distance while keen to avoid messing in other areas:

  • Locate a fixed object ahead. It may be a signboard, billboard, a flyover, a power pole, or even a tree.
  • When the car in front of you passes that fixed object, recite “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.” It takes about 3 seconds to say that, so your car should be passing the same object by the time you finish. You can recite it mentally or verbally. It will help if you don’t stammer.
  • Should your car arrive at the spot before you finish” one thousand three”, you must be following too close. You need to slow down a bit.
  • After slowing down, find another fixed object and try again.
  • Remember to observe other traffic scenes while at this.

But there are other factors to consider when deciding the right following distance. It is not always 3 seconds come rain or shine.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Following Distance

  • Weather Condition — if it is raining, you need to expand the following distance. It should be at least 4 seconds instead of the standard 3. If it is a heavy shower, make it 5 seconds. Should it be a thunderstorm, make it 7 seconds. The 7 seconds following distance also applies to snowy or icy conditions, as well as dust storms.
  • Age — If old age is catching up with you, it is best you go beyond the standard 3 seconds. But remember not to lag so behind that you inconvenience the vehicles behind you.
  • Your Health Condition — If you are not in your best health condition, give yourself more allowance. Again, if you have a vision problem, you need to put it into account when calculating the proper following distance.
  • Your Car Condition — If your car has faulty brakes that take a longer time to pull up the car or too smooth tires with weak grips, you better not get too near the vehicle in front. Give yourself some allowance.
  • The Road Condition — When you drive on a steep road or one with many potholes and bumps, you should give an appropriate following distance. Adjust your distance accordingly.
  • Your Speed — Maintaining the 3-second rule may mean little if you were driving fast at the time the car in front suddenly stopped. The faster you drive, the longer it will take for the vehicle to stop when you press the brake.

Wrap Up

The very act of driving bears a considerable amount of risk, even when the law is on your side. When you fail to keep the proper following distance, you multiply the risk.

Always keep a safe following distance for your and other road users’ safety.

At Pierre Paul Driving School, we teach students the importance of safe driving, of which keeping proper following distance is just one. Contact us today if you would like to refresh your traffic knowledge and learn new tricks.