Following Distance

Thursday, 13 September 2012
The concept of maintaining a safe stopping distance between two vehicles is quite straight forward.

The idea is to allow enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can stop safely if you needed to.

Simple right? Well you would think so, but it’s clear that many people don’t even allow enough space to react to a crisis, let alone have enough room to stop.

Take a look at almost every survey on what annoys the average driver and you’ll find tailgating at the top of the list almost every time.

Yet the vast majority of drivers are guilty of tailgating to some degree. In fact, many drivers tailgate without realising it.

They just don’t know how long it takes to stop. Generally it is because no one has ever taken the time to explain the physics involved.

Your total stopping distance is made up of your reaction distance – the distance you travel in the time it takes you to recognise the problem and get your right foot onto the brakes; and your braking distance – the time you spend actually applying the brakes and stopping the car.

The bottom line is that you must have enough space between you and the car in front of you to allow time for reacting and braking distance.
The best way to do this is to use the time lapse or three second gap method. This means that as the back of the vehicle in front passes a post or a mark on the road, you should be able to count out aloud, one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three one thousand before you reach the same spot.

You are too close if you get to that point before you finish the count. You’ll need to ease off the accelerator a little to achieve the three second gap.

It won’t take too long before this will develop into a habit. A big advantage of this technique is that it works at any speed. Whether it is 50km, 80km or 100km, the gap will be relative for the speed you are travelling at.
The three second gap is a bare minimum; you may need to extend this gap if your level of visibility drops or you encounter some type of adverse conditions. This could include weather conditions such as rain and fog or other dynamic conditions like towing a boat trailer or caravan.
Naturally this nice gap you’ve created will look very appealing to other drivers and from time-to-time they may merge in front of you and deduce your gap. If this happens you only need to practise patience and drop back a little to return to your three second gap.
Some people have said to me in the past “But if I did that I’d never get anywhere because I’d be slowing down all the time”.

The fact is that even if you had 20 people move in front of you during an hour long trip on the highway and each time you had to back off, it costs you three seconds and you’d arrive one minute later than you would have if you hadn’t backed off. Not really a big sacrifice is it?

In fact it is pretty cheap insurance because the only person who will not end up being involved in that nose to tail pile-up is the driver who has left themselves a three second gap up their sleeve.     

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