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So many road traffic accidents are caused by drivers driving too fast and too close to the vehicle in front. A driver needs to be able to judge a safe separation distance at all times, in all kinds of traffic, in all weather and road conditions.

It is much safer for you and the people in front, and your passengers. Plus, if you hit the car in front of you, you are considered to blame. You have no choice as to the space left behind you, but you can control the amount of space in front.

Tailgating – what is that?

Driving extremely close to the car in front is called Tailgating, and is particularly dangerous. If you are being tailgated by someone, then gently ease off the gas and allow the space in front of you to increase. You really don’t want to put yourself in a position where you have to brake from being too close to the car in front. Allow plenty of safety margin. If the tailgater is still close behind and happens to hit you in the rear, then, if you have left plenty of space in front of you, your vehicle will not impact the one in front, possibly preventing a major pile up. It also makes the insurance situation a little less complicated.

What exactly are Separation Distances?

Separation distances are safety margins or empty road between you and the vehicle in front.

Think about what happens as a pedestrian, when you are walking close behind someone on the street, and they stop suddenly, for some reason or other. What happens? You bump into them, or take a sideways swerve to avoid bumping into them.

However, if there was more than just a couple of feet between you and this person, you would notice him stopping in good time to avoid him safely.

This is how it works on the road, too.  If we follow too closely to the vehicle in front, we leave no time and no space for things to change rapidly. Leaving you having to do an emergency stop or dangerous avoidance manoeuvre, in order not to hit the back of his car. And even this is not guaranteed. Too close means trouble waiting to happen.

So what should we do?

It is generally a good idea on urban and suburban roads, to give plenty of space in front. For example, on dry roads, you can leave approximately 1 metre (1 yard) for every one mile per hour, of your speed.
At 30 mph you will be 30 metres away from the guy in front. Enough to encompass the suggested overall stopping distance published in the Highway Code.

What are Overall Stopping Distances.

The Highway Code contains a chart showing overall stopping distances as illustrated below.

These are distances a car travels, over the time it takes for you to bring the vehicle to a full stop. These distances are for a well maintained car, with good brakes and tyres, an alert driver, and a dry road, in daylight.

You need to leave enough space for this to happen safely. As the Highway Code suggests, at 30mph your car will take approximately 23 metres to come to a stop. This is made up of thinking distance (the time it takes for you to activate your brakes, and the distance you have travelled before they start to affect the speed of the car downwards), and braking distance (the time/distance it takes to come to a stop).

In general think of more speed = less time, and, less speed = more time.

So, overall stopping distance at 30 mph (if you leave 1 metre for every 1 mph), will leave you plenty of space to brake and stop should you need to, without impacting the vehicle in front, or having to make a dangerous swerve or lane change, and reduces the chance of a potentially disastrous skid.

Stopping Distances depend on:

  • How fast you are travelling
  • Whether you are on a level road, or a hill going up or down, and the steepness of that hill.
  • Weather, is it good and dry, or is it wet or icy
  • Tyres, are they good tyres and properly inflated, or worn or badly inflated
  • Brakes, are they working well, are they stopping you in a straight line.
  • Your ability as a driver, are you ill, tired, on medication, have drunk alcohol, are distracted, all of these can affect your reactions when applying brakes.

Separation distances are essential to allow you time to see and react appropriately to any potential or developing hazard.

Example Scenario

Just say you are close up behind something a little larger than an ordinary car: perhaps a bus or a commercial vehicle. If you are so close that you cannot see the driver’s side mirrors, then you are invisible to him, as he cannot see you. Plus, if the large vehicle has to stop suddenly then you have no chance of seeing the potential in the road ahead, and could very easily hit the rear of that vehicle.

So, stay back even more than normal, when travelling behind large vehicles. They can block your view of the road ahead, and reduce your ability to forward plan.


Sometimes it is not practical to allow and keep the separation distance, as in heavy, slow moving urban traffic, because of the limited road space available. But busy, slow moving traffic is the norm these days, and you must keep at least your thinking distance clear – and much more than that if the road is wet or slippery.

The overall stopping distance is really the only safe separation gap, anything less than this can be considered a risk.

The Two Second Rule

Some of you might have heard about this, but for those who have not, this is a simple technique for helping to judge separation distances. It is especially useful on faster roads, and motorways where speeds are considerable more than normal.

How to check the Two Second Rule

The driver of the following car must be at least 2 seconds behind the vehicle in front:

  • The driver is alert
  • The car is in good condition, good tyres, good brakes
  • The weather is dry.

Take a note of the vehicle in front when he passes a post or a bridge support, and then count 2 seconds. You should not arrive at the same spot before the 2 seconds are up.  If you are too close, then carefully drop back and retest the gap.

If you are tired, or driving a less than perfect car, or the weather is bad, then your 2 second rule should be extended to 4 seconds, or more. Always know your limitations.

REMEMBER…“Only a fool breaks the 2 second rule.”

Multiple collisions or pile-ups are caused by driving too close and too fast, which leads to drivers being unable to brake in time. You can avoid this by looking well forward, checking out how the traffic is performing, getting clues from large vehicles, looking for buses pulling in and out, taxis stopping and turning, junctions and pedestrians. Maintain that separation distance as much as you can. It is always better to drive defensively, allow yourself enough time for the journey, and arrive alive, but maybe a bit late, than to not arrive at all.



  1. It has nothing about how close a car should be behind you on a hill at a light. I want to know this as I had someone so close to me on a hill at a light I could see his eye colour.

  2. The advice when stopped for any reason be it lights or bus stops to either be able to see the rear wheels of the vehicle in front, remember that with a small car in front one can be only a couple of feet away and his wheels are seen whereas with a a bus one may have to be a lot further away. So the other advice is to be far enough away so as to allow another car to pass between you so that could be anything from about 8 ft to whatever one considers to be fair. A full cars length is considered to be about 12 ft., or 4 meters so that could be used. At lights many drivers behind the lead vehicle may start pulling away anticipating the lights changing and that really means that they are putting themselves into an insidious positron. Drivers should follow the vehicle in front only when it has set of as that leaves greater space for safety should that vehicle in front stop suddenly for whatever reason then a collision could be avoided.

    If there are any side roads just prior to the lights do not pull up and obstruct them. Allow space so that any vehicle wishing to turn in or out of that road has a clear path can do so. which to do so. This encourages more courtesy on the road and also enables the free flow so that others are not obstructed unnecessarily doen

  3. These are some great tips to keep in mind before taking a driving test, especially your point to keep a 2 second following rule. It’s important to develop defensive driving tests from the minute you start driving, even on your road test. It’s also important to get feedback after your test, even if you passed, on how you can improve and become a defensive driver. We can’t control other drivers, but we can control our own driving habits!

  4. Complicating the safe driving distance from the car the car in front by using car lengths as a guide (as any common sense tradesman will tell you) is useless, as a car is not a calibration – it can be any size. It is better to use a distance you are more familiar with to calculate, such as the 100 metres you ran at school or the length of your garden or of a double decker bus (11 metres). This means at 60 miles per hour (30 yards per second) you need to be 60 mtres back from the car in front. It also means that to move into a slower lane you need at least twice this distance to accommodate you. When a motorway is congested you may have to stay in your lane.


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