Last week, my trip from Laredo to Charlotte was significantly delayed. It seemed as though many drivers had a penchant for involving themselves in collisions with vehicles ahead of them. Two crashes involved three vehicles. Another involved five, which later turned out to be six vehicles. The case involving the latter happened right next to me at a relatively low speed of 10 miles per hour. I was easing my way through that crash when suddenly, I heard the undeniable sound of bending metal. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another car crash into the tail end of the 5-car crash.  

All this got me thinking this week, that people in cars and trucks alike are following entirely too close. The figure that’s thrown around is that your following distance should be at least 3 seconds. It’s easy to tell when you’re 3 seconds back from a vehicle ahead of you. What I do, is simply start to count audibly, “One thousand - one, one thousand - two, one thousand - three” after the vehicle ahead of me passes a stationary object. If I get to that same point before saying “one thousand-three”, I’m following too close.

The road where all these crashes happened last Sunday is Interstate Highway I-10, which is almost perfectly straight. These crashes were not caused due to people switching lanes. All three crashes were from vehicles running into the back of one another. The reality is that you must not be paying attention, are following way too close, or purposely want to run into the car ahead of you to be involved in a crash on this particular highway. 

Below is a chart showing the distance at different speeds that maintaining a 3-second following distance would require. You can do these calculations yourself by multiplying 5,280 (feet in 1 mile) x the traveled speed, dividing that by 60 (minutes in each hour), and then dividing by 60 again (seconds in one minute) to find out how many feet you are traveling each second. Multiply that by 3, and you get the following distance you should keep from the vehicle in front of you.

Miles per hour Feet traveled per second 3 seconds folliwng distance
35 51.33 154 feet
45 66.0 198 feet
55 80.66 242 feet 
65 95.33 286 feet
75 110.0  330 feet
100  146.6  440 feet

I added the 100 mph traveling speed because, in my Cascadia, which is equipped with the Detroit Assurance Collision Mitigation System, my dashboard display shows me the speed of the vehicle ahead of me, and I often see vehicles traveling at speeds well into the triple digits.

Three seconds following distance between vehicles is much farther back than many people believe. It’s necessary to mention that the (three-second) space between two vehicles is there for safety, not to give another vehicle the opportunity to come in between them.  

Take 3 seconds and use it to save yourself from a crash that could have, and should have, been avoided.

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Henry Albert

Henry Albert is the owner of Albert Transport, Inc., based in Statesville, NC. Before participating in the "Slice of Life" program, Albert drove a 2001 Freightliner Century Class S/T™, and will use his Cascadia for general freight and a dry van trailer. Albert, who has been a trucker since 1983, was recognized by Overdrive as its 2007 Trucker of the Year.

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