Keep Your Distance!

One of the scariest things to deal with as a driver is something or someone forcing us to hit the brakes suddenly. Whether it be an animal that jumps out in front of the car from the roadside or a vehicle ahead that stops abruptly, instinctively we all know when something is too close and when action needs to be taken to avoid an accident.

The safest driving distance to keep from the vehicle in front is 2 seconds. This is for dry weather driving conditions, when the roads are good. For wet weather driving conditions the safest gap to leave is 4 seconds and when it’s icy you should leave a gap of 10 seconds. The 2-second gap rule is all good and well in principle but how do you judge that distance when actually driving? One of the ways to check your distance is to observe the vehicle in front passing a fixed object, like a road sign, and as it’s passing the object say to yourself, “only a fool breaks the 2-second rule”. It takes 2 seconds to say this phrase and so if your vehicle has passed the same object before you have finished saying that phrase then you know you are less than 2 seconds apart, and therefore too close. If you are too close, simply ease of the accelerator a bit and then repeat the exercise when another fixed object is approaching. To help drivers keep a safe distance now on motorways, some sections have painted chevrons on the lanes with overhead signs advising you keep 2 chevrons apart. You can find further guidance on the Driving News car blog.

Stopping distances vary depending on the speed you’re travelling at and you also need to factor in thinking time, the time between thinking of hitting the brake and actually pressing it. The faster you are travelling the more distance will have been covered before the car finally comes to a stop. So for example, if a car was travelling at 30 mph on a dry road and suddenly had to stop, then the distance it would travel, from the point the driver realised he had to brake to actually braking, would be 9 metres, and then it would travel a further 14 metres before it actually came to a stop. So the overall stopping distance at 30 mph would be 23 metres or approximately 6 car lengths. However, if the car was travelling at 70 mph, the thinking distance would be 21 metres and the braking distance would be 75 metres, meaning the overall stopping distance would be 96 metres or approximately 24 car lengths, which is considerably greater.

There are many factors that can affect the length of time it takes a driver to stop their vehicle, speed being just one of them. We learn this after our formal driving lessons in real life scenarios. The distance you are from the hazard is an important factor too. If you can see an incident unfolding much higher up the road you may not have to stop at all. Also, as mentioned above, the road conditions can play a part in the length of time it takes us to stop, icier roads taking much longer than dry roads. The surface of the road can also make a huge difference to the length of time it takes us to stop, with gravel and looser surfaces affecting our tyre grip. Our style of driving can also play its part too, putting the clutch down too early can cause us to ‘coast’, taking us longer to stop, and heavy, sudden braking can cause the vehicle to skid in certain conditions. So many things can affect how we bring our vehicle to a stop.

An accident can’t always be avoided but adopting defensive style driving techniques of looking far ahead up the road and scanning across the roads can help us spot potential problems before they arise. Keeping our distance from the vehicle in front, therefore, gives us space to manoeuvre should the unthinkable happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *