Do you remember when you took your driver’s test? You never took one? Well that makes a lot of sense, given the way you’ve been driving lately. But had you ever taken a driver’s education course, and passed the test at the end, you might remember your driver’s ed instructor telling you about how to judge a safe following distance at any speed.
Do you remember what that guidance was?
Go ahead… think about it… we’ll give you a minute.
No? Okay – we’re not surprised, because if you knew this little piece of helpful information maybe you’d actually be using it, instead of riding our ass at all hours of the day and night, and maybe rear-end collissions wouldn’t be the most common cause of traffic accidents.1
How to Follow at a Safe Distance
There’s a really easy way to know whether you’re too close. And interestingly, the scientists behind self-driving cars are figuring out that the distance both behind and in front of you matters to traffic safety. In other words, robots are doing it better than you. Do you feel bad yet? No? We’ll keep trying.
The easiest way to know if your following too closely, is to always allow three seconds between you and the car in front of you. Whether you’re going 15 miles an hour or 85 miles an hour (because you’re a terror on the roads, as we know), allowing three seconds between you and the car in front of you should allow adequate stopping distance under most conditions. Don’t take our word for it, even the insurance companies say the three-second rule is the way to go.
Look, the roads may be icy. You may have slower than normal reaction time. Maybe it’s foggy. We can’t guarantee that three seconds will always be enough. We’re not the DMV, and ultimately being safe is up to you. We’re just trying to help here.
How to Apply the Three-Second Rule
We’re going to break it down for you, because apparently a lot of people need help in this area. We’re not saying your “unsafe at any speed;” only Ralph Nader is qualified to judge that. We’re just saying you frighten us. We fear for our lives when you’re behind the wheel. No, seriously. You’re terrifying. How does that make you feel?
If you’re suitably chastened, then try this next time you’re behind the wheel.
- Pick a landmark ahead of you and the car you’re following. It could be a telephone pole, a road sign, the elephant waiting to cross the street…
- When the car ahead of you passes that landmark, start counting: one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, etc.
- When you pass the same landmark, stop counting. If you didn’t get to three-Mississippi, you’re following too closely. Slow down. Was it close? You’re not sure if you did it right? You’re tempted to get out a stopwatch and get a more accurate reading? You’re concerned that the angle of approach doesn’t provide you the vantage point you need to accurately assess the point at which both cars precisely passed the chosen landmark? Just calm the fuck down. If it’s questionable you’re probably going too fast.
Okay Mario Andretti… we’ve given you another precious tidbit to increase your safety and the safety of everyone around you. It’s up to you to use it. Don’t let us down.
1. Traffic Safety Facts 2011, A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811754AR.pdf