Ask a lawyer who specializes in collision litigation and they will tell you that the most frequent collision type they deal with is a rear end crash. Common causes of rear end collisions include driver inattention or distraction, tailgating, panic stops, and reduced traction due to wet weather or worn pavement.
Maintaining a safe space cushion between your vehicle and the one in front of you is simple. Pick a point that the vehicle in front of you passes, and count the number of seconds it takes you to reach that point. If it is less than two seconds, you are following too closely.
You should consider the two second rule of following distance to be the absolute minimum and it may not be enough in many circumstances.
If you are pulling a trailer or carrying a heavy load, increase the time to three seconds. If the road conditions are poor or someone is tailgating you, increase the time to four seconds. This distance is your margin of safety; if something happens you may need every millimeter of it to avoid a collision.
Maintaining a buffer in front of your vehicle gives you time to recover from inattention or distraction.
Just because you don’t use your phone when driving does not mean you won’t be distracted. Paying attention to a competing event, activity or object either inside or outside your vehicle will also cause distraction. We all cope with different demands for our attention and the cognitive load becomes heavier as our environment becomes busier.
Tailgating limits a driver’s ability to see and anticipate. Traffic signals and lane obstructions are hidden by the vehicle in front particularly if it is a large one. If the first vehicle slows, the tailgater is forced to make an abrupt action that may result in a collision other than the one they were trying to avoid.
If you have maintained sufficient following distance and are observing what is happening around you, the need to make a panic stop should be greatly reduced. Space gives you time to anticipate and react in a controlled manner.
While you cannot control worn pavement, you can be aware of it and adjust your following distance to take it into account.
Are you uncomfortable with the following distance chosen by the driver behind you? Increase your following distance so that you both have time to deal with changes ahead. Better still, let that driver by and eliminate the risk to yourself entirely.
The Motor Vehicle Act says that the driver of a vehicle must not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent having regard for the speed, amount and nature of traffic and condition of the highway.
It is specific about commercial vehicles (a vehicle having either a truck or a van body) and combinations of vehicles (any type of vehicle pulling one or more trailers). These vehicles must not follow within 60 metres of another commercial vehicle or combination outside a business or residential district unless it is passing.
Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement.