Maintaining a safe distance between cars when driving is a law that drivers too often ignore. It’s probably a situation that’s happened to you more than once. If the car in front of you is poking along, it’s easy to get frustrated and ride their bumper. You want the car in front of you to hurry up and get out of your way so you can get to your destination.
It’s equally frustrating when the car behind you does the same thing. You look in your rearview mirror and the hood of their vehicle is “right there.” The reason that following a vehicle too closely (tailgating) is against the law is that it isn’t safe. It fails to give the driver in the rear adequate time to stop and avoid a collision. But what is the right distance between cars when driving?
Determining a Safe Following Distance
Safe following distances vary according to the circumstances. The driving conditions, how fast you’re traveling, and the type of vehicle you’re driving are some of the details that factor in. The goal is to maintain enough distance between cars when driving to prevent collisions from happening. During ideal conditions, that’s a minimum of 2 seconds. If you’re driving a vehicle that’s longer than average, such as a trailer or camper, add an additional second for every 3 yards.
Although the added length is behind you, not between you and the car in front, the additional length of your vehicle takes longer to stop. Also, if you have a heavy load in a regular length vehicle, account for that as well.
Drivers in San Diego don’t normally have to worry about severe winter driving conditions. But snow and ice aren’t the only conditions that make the roads more dangerous. Roads that are used by heavy vehicles are prone to more damage. Holes, drop-offs, and uneven surfaces create situations where losing control of your vehicle is a lot more likely. Some other road conditions that might require adjusting your following distance in California include:
Driving on poorly lighted roads or those where the lights aren’t working well reduces your visibility at night. You could end up on another car’s bumper before you realize it!
Any time you enter a construction zone, you need to reduce your speed. The potential for running into debris in the road or other issues that interfere with driving can cause the driver in front of you to stop suddenly.
It isn’t unusual for the coastal city of San Diego to have foggy roads in the mornings. Fog can hide objects that are right in front of you until you’re almost on them. Give the car in front of you more room to stop when the unexpected happens.
Measuring the Distance Between Cars When Driving
The problem many drivers have is that they don’t know how to measure the distance between them and the car in front of them. After all, it isn’t like you can get out and use a tape measure for accuracy. But there is a method that works on any road where there are marks or objects to use as a reference.
The Time-Lapse Method
- – Find a mark, a sign, the end of a bridge, a tree, or another object on the left side of the road.
- – Once the rear of the vehicle in front of you passes the object, start counting in seconds using the one-one thousand, two-one thousand counting method.
- – Note where you are at with the counting when the front of your vehicle passes the same object. If it’s before you reach two seconds under ideal conditions, slow down and increase the distance.
Any of the conditions listed above require you to double the distance between cars. When driving with poor visibility at night or in inclement weather, give yourself even more room for sudden stopping. After using this method a few times, estimating distances should get easier.
Does Tailgating Save Time?
Many drivers think that maintaining a 3 or 4-second distance between cars when driving costs them too much time. They worry even more when they’re driving in traffic. Maintaining a space between cars is difficult when other cars keep cutting them off. They imagine more cars will keep filling the void they open up, only to drive them farther back into the traffic.
Don’t let worries over time loss prevent you from driving safely. Imagine that every car that cuts you off adds 5 seconds to your driving time. That means that if 50 cars cut you off, you’ll add an additional 4 minutes to your traveling time. That’s a generous number, too. Every car isn’t going to cost you a full 5 seconds and it isn’t likely that 50 cars will cut you off. If time is an issue, leave your house 5 minutes earlier. You can still drive safely and arrive at your destination on time. Isn’t leaving 5 minutes early better than risking an accident and never getting there at all?
Maintain a Safe Distance on the Sides of Your Vehicle Too
Maintaining a safe distance between cars when driving on any road is always important. But you should also be aware of the distance between the sides of your car and other vehicles. The distance between you and the car you follow gives you a route of escape whenever they stop suddenly. If you don’t have anywhere else to go, it might not be enough. It isn’t always possible but keep the sides clear whenever you can.
How to Handle Tailgaters
You can control how much distance there is between you and the car in front of you. When you have a tailgater behind you, it gets a lot trickier. You need to get the other driver off your tail to avoid a potential hazard.
If you’re driving on a road with a passing lane, slow down to encourage the driver to pass. If they’re tailgating because they’re in a hurry, this might entice them to go around you. Ignore the urge to speed up. Maintain control of your vehicle and the distance between you and the car in front of you. This is the safest way to handle the situation. What’s more, speeding up to get them off your tail almost never works.
If you have other lanes, consider switching. Be cautious and signal to make sure the tailgater knows your intentions. It might get their attention and encourage them to move on. If that doesn’t work or you’re traveling on a two-lane road, wait until it’s safe and pull off the road.
What you shouldn’t do is let them get to you. Some drivers don’t realize they’re driving too close. Others like to intimidate. Whatever their reason, don’t give them the satisfaction of letting it bother you. Avoid glaring in the rearview mirror or making inappropriate gestures. Don’t pump your brakes with the hopes of scaring them off. Slow down gradually when you need to and pretend they aren’t even there. It’s the best way to spoil their game of intimidation and prevent a collision at the same time.
Phantom Traffic Jams: An Unexpected Consequence of Tailgating
You might think that tailgating would keep traffic flowing. The driver causing the issue seems intent on pushing things along. Research shows that the opposite is true. Failing to keep a reasonable distance between cars when driving leads to phantom traffic jams. This is based on drivers’ inability to modulate their speed without coming to a complete stop.
We tend to think of drivers as either being tailgaters or those that maintain a safe distance between cars. If you belong to the latter group, you speed up and slow down when the car in front of you does the same.
When the car in front of you slows, you have to slow in response to prevent tailgating. That means the car behind you must slow down too. The action triggers an effect all the way to the back of the traffic. That’s how phantom traffic jams begin.
Instead of creating this situation by only monitoring the front car, try to monitor the position of the one behind you too. This approach doesn’t apply to cars that are tailgating you. Only those that don’t always maintain a constant distance between cars when driving normally. It might be a little more challenging at first but leaving enough room between you and the cars in front and behind you keeps things moving at a steady pace. The liability is on the driver in the back if they hit you. But it’s always worth a little more effort to prevent any accident from happening.
Why Tailgating Is So Dangerous
We’ve already established that the goal of maintaining a safe distance between cars when driving is to prevent collisions. It gives you a route of escape when there isn’t time for all the cars in line to stop. Sometimes tailgating leads to minor fender-benders. The damage is minimal, limited to the rear of your car, and you walk away without injuries. But that isn’t always the case. Here’s why…
A car traveling at 60 mph requires 240 feet to come to a safe stop during ideal driving conditions. That number increases significantly when it’s raining, dark, or foggy. A wet road can require four times as long to come to a complete stop.
Even if you’re traveling on a wide, open highway, things can go wrong. Something falls off another vehicle into the road, an animal runs out in front of a car, or another accident occurs up ahead. If the car in front of you has to stop suddenly, you need the required distance to stop safely. If you’re too close, you’re going to hit them.
The larger, heavier, and faster the vehicle is, the greater the impact will be. If you take your eyes off the road for a second, it could cost you even more valuable time. You might not realize that the cars in front are at a stop. If you can’t stop in time, this could result in an accident that causes you and/or occupants in the other vehicle severe injuries. They can even result in death.
One of the first rules of defensive driving is always being alert to other drivers on the road. Some people who are struck by tailgaters never see the collision coming. That’s why it pays to always pay attention to the cars in front of, beside of, and behind you. It also pays to keep a cool head and take every measure to prevent a collision.
Getting a ticket for tailgating isn’t that common. Law enforcement has more trouble than you do determining the distance between cars when driving. But when one car hits another in the rear-end, it’s almost always the fault of the rear-ending driver.
In California, the fault isn’t always assigned to one driver. Since it’s a comparative fault state, the driver in the front might take some of the blame. For example, driving fatigued or distracted could impact the outcome of the case. It might cause you to receive less compensation for your injuries. On the flip side, it might reduce or increase your obligation to the other driver.
There are many reasons that rear-end collisions happen. Speeding, poor weather conditions, and distracted driving are a few. In nearly every case, an accident could have been avoided if the rear-end car allowed more following distance between them and the car in front of them.
When You’re in a Rear-End Collision
Never ignore the injuries of a rear-end crash, even if they seem minimal. One of the most common types is whiplash, which includes a range of injuries to the spine and neck. Concussions are another injury which results from shaking the brain back and forth in the head. These and other injuries occur with minimal or no initial symptoms. Even so, they can result in the need for long-term medical care.
If you’ve been injured in a rear-end collision in San Diego, contact Batta Fulkerson for a free consultation. You might have a good case for a personal injury case.