Safe Following Distances and Road Safety

04 February 2020 | From Arrive Alive


Safe Following distances and road safety

The Dangers of Tailgating / Insufficient Following Distances

Most rear-end collisions are caused when drivers do not obey sufficient following distances. This is also known as Tailgating- often regarded as a form of aggressive driving behaviour. In South Africa, with the high prevalence of road rage, tailgating might contribute towards retaliation by other drivers and initiate instances of road rage.

Adequate following distances enable drivers to adjust in emergency situations and bring their vehicles to a stop safely - time that could mean the difference between life and death.

Total stopping distance involves the following:

Human perception time: The time required for a driver to recognise a potential hazard. This time is assumed to be approximately 0.75 seconds in normal situations

Human reaction time: Once the hazard has been perceived, the driver must respond by applying the brakes. The average reaction time is about 0.75 seconds

Vehicle reaction time: This is the time it takes for the vehicle to react once the brakes have been applied by the driver. Vehicle reaction time is very quick, usually assumed to be about 0.05 seconds.

Vehicle braking capability: This refers to the vehicle’s ability to come to a complete stop once the brakes have been applied

International studies have indicated that when a driver follows another vehicle at 100 kilometres per hour and the vehicle in front suddenly applies the brakes, the driver following will need about one and a half seconds to react. If there is not enough distance between the vehicles - the driver following would not be able to stop.

A driver should stay alert at all times as abrupt stopping could be caused by a variety of unforeseen events such as:

  • Debris on the road,
  • Pedestrians or stray animals,
  • Other drivers falling asleep, drunk drivers or drivers swerving across the road to evade hazards
  • Drivers being distracted, i.e. answering cellular telephone calls etc.


The 2-3 Second Rule:

Most International road safety campaigns refer to the “2" or "3" Second Rule” as a guideline for safe following distances. A point on the road is noted, 2-3 seconds are counted, and if that point is still visible then there's probably enough following distance.

This rule must be adjusted to 5-6 seconds when:

  • In adverse weather conditions
  • Driving on slippery roads
  • Driving at night
  • When following vehicles with different characteristics, i.e. motorcycles & trucks
  • When towing a trailer or other object

Also view:

Following Distances and Road Crashes

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