While everyone on the road should (in theory) have a valid driving license, unfortunately, not everybody has the same level of skill behind the wheel. Nobody wants to be involved in a crash, so let’s look at one important aspect of driving: what is a safe following distance?
Understanding “Stopping Distance”
First, let’s talk about the concept of “stopping distance.”
Stopping distance refers to how far it takes you to bring the car to a full stop in an emergency, and it is determined by two factors: your reaction distance and your braking distance.
Reaction Distance And Braking Distance
Your reaction distance is how far your car travels between something happening on the road up ahead and you reacting to it.
Since nobody has perfect reactions, there will always be a certain amount of time, even just a split second, between the moment something happens and when you hit the brakes.
The reaction time depends on several factors, including age and experience. For most people, it is in the range of 0.2 seconds to 2 seconds.
If you are traveling slowly, the distance you cover will be minimal, but if you are driving at speed, the distance your car travels in just that short moment can be considerable.
Your braking distance is how far your car travels after you hit the brakes before coming to a complete stop.
Again, the faster you are traveling, the longer it will take you to come to a full stop—braking distance is directly proportional to your speed, so if you double your speed, you double your braking distance.
Your total stopping distance is equal to your reaction distance plus your braking distance. So, for example, if something happens ahead and you travel 20 feet before you react and then another 20 feet before bringing the car to a complete stop, your total stopping distance will be 40 feet.
In other words, from the moment something happens up ahead to when you bring the car to a full stop, you will need 40 feet.
Working Out Your Stopping Distance
There are several ways of working out your stopping distance. One way is to multiply your speed by a certain factor that increases with your speed.
So, for example, at 20mph, you multiply by 2, giving you a stopping distance of 40 feet. For 30mph, you multiply by 2.5, giving you 75ft, and so on, adding 0.5 for every extra 10mph of speed.
However, this is too complicated to think about while you are driving, and anyway, this only tells you the distance you need to come to a complete stop. It doesn’t take into account the fact that the car ahead is also moving.
For these reasons, we need a better way to calculate a safe following distance that doesn’t rely on you doing calculations in your head as you drive.
40% Of All Car Accidents In Florida
Result In Injuries.
The Two-Second Rule
The easiest and quickest way to calculate a safe following distance (the safe amount of distance between you and the car ahead of you) is to use the two-second rule.
Basically, the two-second rule states that you should stay a full two seconds behind the car in front of you, whatever speed you are traveling at.
The reason the two-second rule works regardless of your speed is that the faster you travel, the greater the distance you cover in two seconds. This means that as your speed increases, the distance between you and the car ahead also needs to increase to leave the required two-second gap.
The two-second rule also takes into account the fact that the car in front will need a certain distance to come to a stop, which gives you a little extra time.
If you were traveling at 70 mph and the car in front suddenly came to a complete stop on the spot, you would probably not be able to stop in time to avoid hitting it.
However, in reality, this can’t happen—unless, for example, the car in front went into the back of a stationary large truck and stopped dead. But even then, the two-second rule would give you a few valuable moments to react and avoid the accident yourself by taking evasive action.
How To Calculate The Two-Second Distance
Calculating a two-second gap between you and the car in front is extremely easy, which is why this method of judging distance is so useful and effective.
As you are driving, simply take a point of reference up ahead. It could be anything—a lamppost, a tree, or anything else by the side of the road.
When the car in front passes the point of reference, you need to time two seconds and then make sure you don’t pass the point of reference before two seconds are up.
You can try to estimate two seconds in your head just by counting slowly, but a better way if you are not sure you can judge the time accurately is to say “one-one-thousand-two-one-thousand” at a normal speed. This will give you a better approximation of two seconds.
If you find that you pass the point of reference in under two seconds, it means you are too close, and you should drop back a little. If it takes you more than two seconds, you are fine.
The Three-Second Rule
Some experts consider a two-second distance to be the absolute minimum that you should allow, but suggest that to be truly safe, you should apply the three-second rule instead. This means you allow an extra one second of distance on top of the two seconds to give yourself an extra margin of safety.
Whenever possible, we would advise following the three-second rule rather than the two-second rule. Being cautious won’t cost you anything since you will still be traveling at the same speed, but it may be the difference between having an accident and avoiding one.
Are There Times When The Three-Second Rule Doesn’t Apply?
There are times when the three-second rule doesn’t apply, and leaving only three seconds of distance between you and the car in front could still be dangerous.
For example, in bad weather, you should consider leaving more than this minimum distance between you and the car in front.
One example would be in moderate rain. In this case, you would be better advised to double the distance and use the “six-second rule”, counting to six before you pass the chosen point of reference.
In very heavy rain, snow, or icy conditions, you should leave a nine-second gap, and in these conditions, you should also consider driving much more slowly than would otherwise be the case.
These guidelines are fairly self-evident, since driving safely always involves adapting your driving to the conditions. But at least by calculating a six-second or nine-second stopping distance, you are ensuring you have plenty of time to pull over if something unexpected happens.
The following table shows how allowing three- and six-second gaps between you and the car in front translates into the distance there should be between you and the car in front.
Why You Shouldn’t Tailgate
Tailgating—driving too close to the car ahead of you—is a very dangerous practice, both for the tailgater and the car in front. Unfortunately, many people still do it.
In fact, the likelihood that you will tailgate seems to be at least partly affected by factors including sex as well as the type of car you drive, as this table shows:
If you leave less than the recommended two or three seconds between you and the car you are following, you risk driving into the back of it if it stops suddenly.
Tailgating can also feel very aggressive. If a driver is being followed too closely, it may make him or her feel pressured and even anxious. Anxious, flustered drivers are more prone to mistakes or bad decisions, which could endanger both cars.
Some drivers also react aggressively to tailgaters, in the same way that some people become angry when you invade their personal space. A common reaction to tailgating is to hit the brakes suddenly to flash the brake lights and cause the car behind to brake suddenly as well.
This is obviously a dangerous maneuver since the car behind might not react in time—or the sudden braking could cause a third car further back to run into the tailgater.
Distracted Driving Accidents
Another dangerous and even more prevalent issue that causes reduced safe driving distance and serious accidents – distracted driving.
Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.
Distracted driving (i.e., texting and driving) has been the focus of many studies and demonstrations. It is difficult to even peripherally follow the news and not hear about an accident or incident involving a distracted driver. That distraction is most commonly the mobile phone, either directly or indirectly removing the driver’s attention from the task at hand—safely operating the vehicle.
What Should You Do If You Are In A Florida Car Accident?
1. Call the police and file a report.
2. Swap information (including any insurance information they may have).
3. Gather details.
4. Take pictures/video
5. Gather the contact information of any witnesses.
6. Seek medical care immediately for any injuries, no matter how minor you think they might be.
GET MORE HELPFUL INFORMATION ON WHAT TO DO AFTER AN ACCIDENT HERE AT OUR “Car Wreck Checklist” >
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer whose firm has been promoting community safety since 2007. WE PRACTICE IN THE AREAS OF SERIOUS PERSONAL INJURY, PRODUCT DEFECT, AUTO ACCIDENTS, CYCLING ACCIDENTS, MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS, PRODUCT LIABILITY, WRONGFUL DEATH, COMMUNITY SAFETY, BOAT AND JET SKI ACCIDENTS, AND SLIP AND FALL AT ZARZAUR LAW. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, it’s important that you don’t make any rash decisions. Put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve. It is also important to consult with a Board-Certified Trial Lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful, and we want to make the process as easy as possible for you.
Call Zarzaur Law, P.A., today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.
What is a Safe Following Distance? (3 Second Rule)