In Oregon, following too closely rates number six in the top ten driver errors, as of the last complete year of data (2017). Maintaining a safe following distance can prevent everything from fender benders to tragic fatal and serious injury crashes. How do you know what’s safe? The speed at which you drive determines how much time you have to act or react and how long it takes to stop. The higher the speed you are traveling, the less time you have to spot hazards, judge the speed of other traffic, and react to conditions.
A safe following distance is defined as 2 to 4 seconds. For speeds greater than 30 mph, a safe following distance should be 4 seconds or more to allow you time to make a decision and take action. Always maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you. You will have a better view of the road to watch for problems and more time to react.
How to determine if you are following too closely
Watch for when the rear of the vehicle ahead passes something like a sign or pole. Count the seconds it takes you to reach the same spot. You are following too closely if you pass the mark before you finish counting at least 2 to 4 seconds, depending on your speed. If so, increase the space between you and the vehicle ahead and count again at another spot to check your new following distance. Repeat until you are no closer than 2 to 4 seconds behind the other vehicle. When stopping behind a vehicle, make sure you can see where the rear tires of the vehicle in front meet the road. After traffic starts to move, return to your safe following distance.
You may need more space
There are situations, such as those listed below, when you need even more space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. In all of these situations, you should increase your following distance:
On wet or slippery roads. You need more distance to stop your vehicle.
When the driver behind you wants to pass. Slow down to allow room in front of your vehicle for the passing vehicle to complete the pass.
When following bicycles or motorcycles. You need extra room in case the rider loses control or stops suddenly.
When following drivers who cannot see you. The drivers of large vehicles may not be able to see you when you are directly behind them. These vehicles also block your view of the road ahead.
When you have a heavy load or are pulling a trailer. The extra weight increases your stopping distance.
When it is hard for you to see. In bad weather or darkness, increase your following distance to make up for decreased visibility.
When stopped on a hill. The vehicle ahead may roll back when it starts to move.
When you are learning to drive. The extra room provides you time to make critical decisions as you learn.
When approaching or in a work zone. Traffic may slow or stop unexpectedly in these areas.