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What Is a Safe Following Distance on the Road?

Learn how keeping your distance can keep you safe behind the wheel

Your stopping distance is the sum of reaction time and braking distance.

Safe Following Distance

Maintain at least a three-second following distance to help avoid dangerous situations.

1. Locate a fixed point ahead. It can be an overpass, a utility pole or a shadow across the road.
2. When the vehicle ahead of you passes that fixed point, count to yourself, “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.” If your vehicle passes the same fixed point when you say “one thousand three,” then you have a three-second safe following distance.
3. If your vehicle arrives at the fixed point before you reach the count of “one thousand three,” you are too close. Slow down slightly and increase the distance between you and the vehicle ahead.
4. Recheck against a new fixed point after you have increased your distance. You should be able to finish the count of “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three” before you reach that fixed point.

Caution: Do not focus so intently on the fixed point that you fail to observe the total traffic scene.

The Three-Second Following Distance Rule

• The three-second following distance applies to dry roads at any speed.
• Add an additional second if it is raining.
• Add an additional two seconds for torrential rain and thunderstorms, snow or icy conditions, or for dust storms.
• In some states, different following distances are suggested. In this course, we recommend at least three seconds.

Stopping Distance

Your stopping distance is the sum of reaction time (the distance needed to react and press on the brake) and braking distance. Reaction time is how long it takes the driver to perceive a hazard, decide on a response and react. Braking distance is the distance a vehicle will travel from when its brakes are fully applied until it comes to a stop. It is based on things such as weight of the vehicle, speed, tire condition and roadway characteristics.

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