If you ask driving experts about a proper following distance, they will generally advise at least three seconds. They’ll tell you to watch for the car ahead of you to pass a stationary object and then count three seconds to ensure that you don’t pass that object too quickly.
This is an easy rule to follow, but many people break it. Some people think that two seconds should be fine. Three seconds may appear too far once they actually measure it out. In fact, if you do maintain a three-second following distance, other drivers may constantly cut into the gap between the two vehicles.
Breaking down reaction times
The reason that three seconds is necessary is that reactions don’t happen immediately. It takes three-quarters of a second for a driver to realize that they need to slow down. It takes another three-quarters of a second for that driver to push the brake pedal. By the time they start braking, one and a half seconds has already gone by.
What often happens is that drivers will maintain a closer following distance when traffic is flowing smoothly. This makes them feel safe because they assume that the driver ahead of them isn’t going to slow down either. But when something unexpected happens and that driver does have to hit the brakes, an accident is inevitable because there is just not enough space to prevent it.
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