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Driver Tips: Tailgating & Safe Driving Distances

There are many common practices that contribute to safe driving, and a pivotal example is keeping a safe distance from the driver in front of you. From the very beginning of Drivers Education, this concept is always prioritized because of the importance it has in preventing collisions. However, while it is such an important practice, the actual definition of a safe driving distance is highly variable and circumstantial. For example, a safe driving distance looks very different in a drive-thru than it does on the freeway.

So, how do we as drivers make sure we keep a safe driving distance? And how can we help

ourselves, and most importantly, our fleets, ensure they too are being safe on the road?

Tailgating: Defined

What exactly entails “tailgating?” When we are defining tailgating on the road, this does not include hanging out with friends and family outside a game or event. On the road, tailgating is when one driver follows another driver very closely, often times too closely to allow the driver to react if something were to go wrong on the road. We have all experienced it, and it is definitely an uncomfortable situation for the leading driver.

Tailgating is dangerous because it gives the following driver very little reaction time and room for error should an unforeseen event occur on the road, which in the perspective of fleets where thousands of miles are traversed daily, is almost certain. The saying, “you cannot control what happens, only the way you react to what happens” rings exceptionally true while on the road, and tailgating sacrifices that opportunity to react. Even at slow speeds, tailgating can lead to an increased chance of an accident, which neither driver wants. Tailgating can cause accidents in front of you, with cars in neighboring lanes from last second swerving, and even multi-car car pileups on highways. In fact, according to the National Safety Council (NSC) and All Nation Insurance, tailgating is one of the most common types of collision caused by driving errors.

But naturally, people want to maximize their efficiency on the road. A person can be running late to work, or exhausted after hours upon hours of driving, or a million other reasons that make them want to get to their destination as quickly as possible. And so, driving a little faster, and getting a little closer to the leading car in that process seems like a rational thing to do. And many times the driver believes they will be able to react to events on the road, even in that tight space. But that is where the delicate line between maximum road efficiency and tailgating/unsafe driving occurs. How close is too close? What factors go into determining that distance and balance?

Detecting Tailgating and Unsafe Distances

Detecting an unsafe driving distance is highly circumstantial. There are many factors that go into determining what it is, including road conditions, vehicle weight, and speed of the vehicles on the road. Naturally, it is easy to determine that bad road conditions, higher vehicle weight, and higher travel speeds all mean one needs a longer distance to stay safe.

In general, cars should aim to create a baseline buffer of 1.5 seconds to the driver ahead, and increase that gap when dealing with faster speeds (freeway), heavier vehicles (especially trucks), and bad road conditions (including weather, winding roads, downward slopes, and more). This baseline is applicable when speeds are approximately 25 mph or more, and with no brakes being applied. If you find yourself within that distance, you should slow down and give more space between yourself and the leading car. One simple way to test this is to pick a landmark in front of both cars —street sign, overpass, tree, etc.— and then count how long it takes you to reach that landmark after the leading car passes it.

How Telematics Technology can Help

While using that little test can be helpful, driving conditions can change drastically from the baseline. Freeways experience much higher speeds, slippery roads occur almost every day, and trucks have much more weight to factor in. Fortunately, technology solutions can offer critical assistance in helping drivers and fleet managers become aware of unsafe driving distances and tailgating. Solutions such as Positioning Universal’s AI Fleet Camera Solution offer tailgating detection, among other critical events. By utilizing a solution like this, fleets can receive notifications with video footage when tailgating occurs and have the ability to address the unsafe driving practice in real time. Likewise, by having this footage across all vehicles in the fleet, managers can use that information to build comprehensive and strategic programming specifically targeted to their fleets needs. This ensures that all training is beneficial to the drivers and productive for the fleet as a whole. Overall, keeping a safe driving distance is a pivotal part of staying safe on the road. Equipping your fleet with technology such as Positioning Universal’s AI Fleet Camera Solution helps ensure tailgating will be quickly and properly addressed, making your fleet safer on the road.

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