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What is a safe following distance?

On Behalf of | Dec 2, 2023 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

Each year, many people are injured or killed in collisions where one vehicle hits another from behind. Many could have been avoided if the driver behind had maintained a safe following distance.

The problem is many people do not know what this is. How far back should you stay to keep safe?

Experts recommend a three-second minimum

Measuring a distance in seconds rather than feet may seem unusual, but there is a logic to it. Firstly, most people can count seconds far more accurately than they can calculate feet. Secondly, the physical distance you need to keep can vary far more than the time you need to keep from the vehicle in front.

For instance, if you are driving at 10 mph, you will cover 45 feet in three seconds. If you drive at 50 mph, you will cover 222 feet in the same three seconds. 

The faster you travel, the more feet back you need to be, as the faster you are going, the longer it will take you to brake to a halt. By thinking in seconds, you avoid complex calculations and can ensure you maintain a safe following distance.

Sometimes, three seconds is not enough

Three seconds is not a one-size-fits-all solution, though. It is a minimum for ideal conditions. If the road surface is wet, icy or loose, or visibility is poor, you should increase the gap to six seconds or more. If you are feeling drowsy, have consumed alcohol, or are not feeling as sharp as usual, you should also increase the distance to compensate for your slowed decision-making and reaction time. 

Knowing this and abiding by it may prevent you from rear-ending someone, but it can’t stop someone who is driving too close from rear-ending you. Learning more about your compensation options will be crucial if that happens.