Following Too Closely

image of a car following too closelyAsk a lawyer who specializes in collision litigation and they will tell you that the most frequent collision type they deal with is a rear end crash. Common causes of rear end collisions include driver inattention or distraction, following too closely, panic stops, and reduced traction due to wet weather or worn pavement.

Space Cushion

Maintaining a safe space cushion between your vehicle and the one in front of you is simple. Pick a point that the vehicle in front of you passes, and count the number of seconds it takes you to reach that point. If it is less than two seconds, you are following too closely.

Two Second Minimum

You should consider the two second rule of following distance to be the absolute minimum and it may not be enough in many circumstances.

More Time for Heavy Loads

If you are pulling a trailer or carrying a heavy load, increase the time to three seconds. If the road conditions are poor or someone is tailgating you, increase the time to four seconds. This distance is your margin of safety, if something happens you may need every millimetre of it to avoid a collision.

Maintaining a buffer in front of your vehicle gives you time to recover from inattention or distraction.

Don't be Distracted

Just because you don't use your phone when driving does not mean you won't be distracted. Paying attention to a competing event, activity or object either inside or outside your vehicle will also cause distraction. We all cope with different demands for our attention and the cognitive load becomes heavier as our environment becomes busier.

Following Too Closely Limits You

Following too closely limits a drivers ability to see and anticipate. Traffic signals and lane obstructions are hidden by the vehicle in front particularly if it is a large one. If the first vehicle slows, the tailgater is forced to make an abrupt action that may result in a collision other than the one they were trying to avoid.

No Need for Panic Stops

If you have maintained sufficient following distance and are observing what is happening around you, the need to make a panic stop should be greatly reduced. Space gives you time to anticipate and react in a controlled manner.

While you cannot control worn pavement, you can be aware of it and adjust your following distance to take it into account.

Coping With the Driver Behind You

Are you uncomfortable with the following distance chosen by the driver behind you? Increase your following distance so that you both have time to deal with changes ahead. Better still, let that driver by and eliminate the risk to yourself entirely.

The Motor Vehicle Act says that the driver of a vehicle must not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent having regard for the speed, amount and nature of traffic and condition of the highway.

Commercial Vehicles

It is specific about commercial vehicles (a vehicle having either a truck or a van body) and combinations of vehicles (any type of vehicle pulling one or more trailers). These vehicles must not follow within 60 meters of another commercial vehicle or combination outside a business or residential district unless it is passing.

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I usually travel 5 - 10 km over the limit so there is no need to tailgate. Sometimes I tap my brakes if they are too close. If it's a route that I enjoy, I will pull over and let them go.

Many distractions in modern vehicles. Even the radio is optioned out with so many choices and easy to lose the favourite station. Then the fuel economy selections. And if a tire is low with colder weather, is it an emergency to be checked immediately while driving?I have been more distracted with gadgets in new vehicles than ever in my driving history.

With all the technology, it's amazing that many drivers can,t read the digital speedometer! Or read the signs on the side of the road.

I'm happy to be able to go where I want, when I want, on my cruising route, so no real complaints. Let the fools pass , I say.

I can remember being in Driver Education classes, almost fifty years ago. At that time, the instruction was to allow a car length of distance from the vehicle ahead for every 10 mp/h of speed. Which would be great, if everyone had the same perception of distance in car lengths, and sufficient capacity in their brain to continuously re-evaluate whether they were spacing themselves sufficiently far back from the vehicle ahead in varying conditions.

Oh, and physics hadn't really been factored into it; let's face it, if you and the car ahead are both doing 60 mp/h (88' per second) and you figure that 94' is a sufficient margin, then you probably shouldn't be allowed on the highway.

And then, some genius came up with the '2-second' Rule! Awesome, for several reasons. You didn't need to be able to calculate, and recalculate, your distance based on your speedometer reading. You didn't need to be able to estimate distance in car lengths.  It didn't matter whether your system is metric or imperial. You could actually train your brain, over time, to continuously calculate distance spacing, so that a little warning would go off in your head if you got too close; this would of course allow your eyes to scan ahead and in the mirrors much more often!

2 seconds is a minimum, not an absolute. We do not need a whole new set of opinions about how drivers should be recalculating distances based on a downward gradient, wet surface conditions, gravel roads, trailer towing, etc. Anybody want to tell me the correct following distance on a road surface with wet leaves, when you're pulling an empty trailer?

It should be obvious to anyone with a brain, that the 2-Second Rule is a minimum. And if you're accustomed to maintaining a space cushion ahead of, and around your vehicle, then increasing that distance in unfavourable conditions should be obvious.

And it should be obvious too, to the people who write ICBC Manuals or the geniuses at YD (who would be wise to remember that anytime you instruct a driver to do, or not do, something then you must explain why this is desirable). It just don't help when you try and complicate matters for drivers, instead of treating them like intelligent human beings. 

I've been behind the wheel now (legally) for 49 years. Seen a lot of changes. Become opinionated, maybe.

But let's consider this. There was a time when the Vancouver Police would ticket pedestrians for jaywalking, or stepping illegally/unsafely into the traffic stream. Obviously, not every miscreant would be caught, every time, but pedestrians in Vancouver would behave in the presence of the cops. There was a time when all police in this province worked hard to identify and ticket drivers/passengers who weren't wearing their seatbelts. This worked so well that by the end of the 90's compliance with seatbelt rules in BC was higher than anywhere else in the civilized world! And, in about the same era, in recognition of the fact that drivers with a higher alcohol content were involved in more fatal collisions than any other group, the various police forces made the most strenous effort to apprehend, and arrest them - with serious ensuing penalties.

Wonderful! That's what cops are for. They can't be everywhere, all of the time, tackling every social issue. But on whatever occasional basis, they can - and should - be policing all road user's behaviour - or misbehaviour. This results in a much higher chance of them nailing the bad guys (and girls) that we have to deal with every day on the roads, and assessing penalties (Driver Demerit Points), whilst making their potential presence more obvious to all. (Sort of the opposite to those innocuous Photo Radar vans, if you think about it.)

And you know what used to happen? I mean this, seriously. This was also a time when police would willingly attend a crash scene, sometimes they would get there not long behind the ambulances and fire trucks! When they got there, so long as the physical and evidentiary evidence was sufficient, it would be typical for the officers in attendance to issue a ticket to the driver they deemed to be at fault! Amazing, eh?

The whole concept behind the law, and the consequent behaviour of the police, would be to change the behaviour of the driver who had, effectively, put their license to drive at risk.

But that's not where we're at these days. The cops have been running away from their traffic duties for a long time, now (except for radar traps, or ticketing single driver use of HOV lanes, which is pretty much harmless - however annoying to the righteous).

No argument, it's challenging to ticket drivers in mass moving traffic for following too close. Even if they are. But the Highway Patrol are easily able to ticket commercial vehicles for following closer than 60 meters apart. Especially if they're doing this on the #1 Highway area, between the Capilano Bridge and 232 Street, which is their purview.

But when all is said and done, ICBC statistics from 2016 show 28 MVA tickets being issued (out of 440,000) for the simplest 'following too close' infraction to identify and prosecute - commercial vehicles following within 60 meters of each other, on a highway. It's my guess that in the rare cases when this ticket was actually issued, it was as a consequence of a rear-end collision. But for sure, there's no apparent intention to be part of the solution to the problem of tailgating in a practical manner, on the part of police forces in BC. Not if you compare any number of tickets under Section 162 to the number of collisions that result from this driver behaviour.

So, are the police part of the solution, or part of the problem? Or is it just too easy to bust lone drivers using the HOV lane on the Trans Canada highway, whilst ignoring all the genuinely dangerous behaviour of the packed traffic in the adjacent lanes?


While the driver who kissed your rear bumper is usually always at-fault, at-least where insurance is concerned, its also axiomatic that it takes two cars for a two-car collision.

I've seen many anecdotal accounts of "good drivers" being rear-ended multiple times in their driving career, so I thought I'd share what I've been actively doing to avoid the head-ache (and neck pain) of a vehicular overlap:

1. Keep attention on the road to avoid surprising the driver behind. Let off the accelerator well in-advance of any stopping. This requires keeping your eyes on the "horizon" - as far as the road goes or to the furthest visible point. Look past the cars immediately in-front of you and see what is happening on the whole road ahead to anticipate what comes next.

2. When coming to a stop you can stretch-out the braking period, start braking early to get attention of the driver behind, and coast to a stop, allowing plenty of space in-front. And if no one is following you when you are coming to a stop its best to leave a lot more space ahead than usual. You can then roll the rest of the distance forward once the following driver catches up and slows down.

3. Attract attention. Borrowing from the motorcyclist's handbook, you can do a left-right weave with-in your own lane to attract attention of the driver behind you. Tapping your brakes several times before any hard braking. This is invaluable in places where stopping is highly unexpected like on a free-flowing highway when coming to an abrupt stop due to sudden traffic or accident. Depending on your vehicle, like large tinted SUVs, vans, trucks, etc, weaving will open up the view ahead of you to the following driver alerting them to stoppage. I find "showing the road" also helps with tailgating, because when the driver behind you sees that theres another car in-front, they back off a little.

For many minor rear-ends its the final 2-3 feet that make the most difference. You have control of that last stretch, don't relinquish it by constantly stopping up against the bumper of the car in-front. You can prevent some rear-ends by simply rolling forward a bit at the right time, but that requires paying attention to whats happening behind you.
Accelerate smoothly, stop smoothly, drive smoothly.

I find I rarely have people tailgating me. The odd time I do as soon as possible I will pull over and let them go by.

Doing a lot of open highway driving I do wish there would be more enforcement of the 60m space between commercial vehicles. Or maybe its because of our own lawmakers and MVA catering to the set that are still stuck in the mid 70's. Why do we allow Canadian registered trailer to have it marked on the side of the trailer 53 feet? Why not let trailers me a maximum of 17m and insist on the length of the trailer be noted in metric? Anyway going into my sarcastic mode I believe that many truckers consider that 60m space is actually 60 feet, and they even push that by several meters. What I am getting at is I often find two or more trucks travelling together and you have to wait for a passing lane as there is not enough space to fit a small car between the two vehicles if you pass during a passing section on the two lane roadway.