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Behind-the-Wheel

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Maintaining a safe following distance

I try very hard to maintain at least a two-second following distance when I drive.

This can sometimes be quite a challenge as it often seems that I am the only driver present who thinks this is a worthwhile accomplishment.

In fact, other drivers seem bent on preventing this because they seem quite happy filling up any available space and forcing me to constantly adjust my position.

Beginning at page 72, the Learn to Drive Smart guide devotes some explanation to Space Margins. It explains the Two Second Rule and discusses braking distances. It also sprinkles advice throughout chapter 6, Sharing the Road.

It's a critical concept for new drivers to learn and accomplished drivers to retain and follow.

I've already mentioned maintaining my following distance, but I also have to consider the distance from vehicles following me and minimizing the time that I spend beside other vehicles.

Leaving yourself an "out" in case something happens is a never-ending task. 

Dealing with drivers in front of you is not that difficult. Simply slow slightly to create the necessary gap again and then resume the speed of traffic. Yes, you may find yourself doing this continually, and it is annoying, but better safe than sorry.

The same method works for vehicles beside you. If they are not passing, adjust your position to be ahead or behind them and you have regained the desired space margin.

When someone seems bent on tailgating you, the situation can be more difficult. Some drivers will purposely attempt to bulldoze you out of the way so that they can do it again to the next vehicle in front of them.

On multi-lane road, it is often as simple as slowing slightly and letting the driver behind you decide to pass on their own.

Of course, this assumes that you are in the right-hand lane. If you aren't, you should be. Move over and let the driver by, even if you are doing the speed limit.

This becomes more difficult when there is only one lane of travel for each direction. Slowing down when there is an opportunity for the vehicle behind to pass may work.

If it doesn't, signal, pull over to the right and stop. Driving on the shoulder is illegal. After the vehicle passes, pull back onto the highway and continue on your way.

Turning on your hazard flashers or flashing your brake lights might not be a good idea. The driver behind may not be paying much attention and could decide to ignore the brake lights. This could lead to a collision.

Whatever you do, don't decide to teach the other driver a lesson by stomping on your brakes. One bad behaviour does not justify another.

In either case, it's time for you to leave more space in front because you are now making decisions for two drivers. More space means more time. You can brake more slowly if something happens in front of you, giving the driver behind more time to react as well.

In 2015, 2,400 traffic tickets were written to drivers for following too closely. It appears to me that this behaviour is as common as speeding, yet in comparison, more than 160,000 speed related tickets were issued that year.

It would be interesting to know what portion of the 2,400 tickets were written in response to collisions and how many were the result of preventive enforcement.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/unsafe-driving-practices/maintaining-safe-following-distance

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About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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