Last updated: August 2022

How Many Feet Should You Stay Behind a Car? Your Guide to Safe Following Distances

Leave "two seconds" of space between you and the car in front of you. It's a common mantra in driver's ed and most safe driving articles. But, if it's been a few decades since you took driver's ed, you may be wondering what that safe driving distance means (and how to measure it). Help keep accidents at bay by learning how many feet you should stay behind a car, what factors impact safe driving distance, and what the consequences of tailgating slow drivers are!

1. Determine a safe following distance.

The most popular method for figuring out what is the recommended safe following distance is the time-lapse method. Here's how it works:

  1. Select a roadside object to use as a marker. You can pick a light pole, telephone pole, traffic sign, or anything similar.
  2. Once the rear end of the vehicle in front of you passes this object, begin counting. Count like this: "One thousand one, one thousand two." It's a good way to ensure you're not counting too fast.
  3. If you reach the marker after you finish counting, you're likely at a reasonable driving distance. If you pass the marker before you finish counting, you are too close. Slow down.

The two-second rule is equivalent to one vehicle length for every 5 MPH of the current speed. It's preferable to use seconds to gauge safe distances instead of feet or car lengths because vehicle sizes (and people's depth perception) vary widely. Plus, though most of us can count, many drivers can't accurately estimate distances.

Also, the two-second rule is internationally accepted. According to the Conference of European Directors of Roads, it's recommended to drivers around the world, including the U.K., where they drive on the "wrong" side of the road!

2. Factor in driving conditions.

The two-second rule works great if driving conditions are favorable. Think clear skies and dry roads. In circumstances that impact your ability to stop your vehicle from a safe distance, you must increase braking distance. Complicating factors include:

  • Inclement weather — Are the roads wet? Icy?
  • Limited visibility — Is it foggy? Is there roadwork that might reduce the visibility of drivers ahead of you?
  • Road conditions — Are patches of the road covered in dirt or gravel? Such situations can make safely stopping difficult.
  • Towing — Are you towing a camper? A boat? Any significant load or weight to your vehicle will require additional braking distance.

If you want to avoid rear-end collisions, always consider such road conditions.

3. Consider the consequences.

Rear-end crashes accounted for almost half of all two-vehicle crashes between 2012 and 2014, reports the National Transportation Safety Board. Even scarier? Such crashes resulted in more than 1,700 fatalities each year. Applying the two-second rule may help you avoid costly — and potentially deadly — accidents down the road.

Incorporating the two-second rule into your driving could also help you save money. Sure, it's always great when you can avoid an auto body repair bill. But, you should also consider that avoiding accidents might help you qualify for a safe driving discount on your car insurance policy.

In general, to qualify for such discounts, you must meet conditions similar to the ones below:

  • Avoid moving violations and accidents for the past 36 months (although this period varies by state).
  • Reside in a state where safe driver discounts are offered.

Practice makes perfect!

Practice maintaining a safe following distance from other cars on the road, and you might qualify for a safe driver discount from Direct Auto Insurance! Learn more about our discounts, and contact us today to check your eligibility.

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