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Safety tips - Following distance

Following distance
by Randolf Richardson, 2005-Aug-10

Following too close (also known as "tail gating"), especially at higher speeds, is dangerous because a serious collision could occur if the vehicle in front stopped suddenly.  Reasons for abrupt stopping include, but are not limited to, the following unexpected scenarios:

  • debris on the road
  • pedestrians or animals crossing
  • other erratic drivers
  • sudden changes in weather conditions
  • engine failure (e.g., empty fuel tank, mechanical problem, etc.)
  • following an intoxicated or hostile driver
  • drivers answering cellular telephone calls
  • misbehaving passengers

When following other vehicles, a driver must take care to maintain a minimum distance so they can stop safely in the event the driver ahead stops unexpectedly.

Many driving class instructors recommend what's known as "the two-second rule" where a point on the road is noted, two seconds are counted, and if that point is still visible then there's probably enough following distance.  Adding one or two extra seconds to that rule is an excellent driving habit, especially at higher speeds.

Since motorcycles can stop in shorter distances than heavier vehicles, drivers should also take care to maintain a longer distance when following them.  A motorcyclist has less protection than occupants in a vehicle with four or more wheels, and a longer following distance can reduce the chances of a collision in the event the motorcycle stops unexpectedly.

In an informal conversation with an RCMP Constable in August 2005, I learned that the "following too close" offence in British Columbia yields a fine of $109.00 plus two points on the driver's license (which could also contribute to increased motor vehicle insurance premiums).  The law certainly takes this offence seriously, and all drivers should too.

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