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Safe Following Distance

Have you ever found yourself inadvertently travelling too close to the vehicle in front only to have it brake suddenly, leaving you with minimal time and distance to react? Or have you ever had a vehicle another tailgating you, travelling so close that you can’t even see their number plate?

It can make you feel uneasy right? In this situation, what’s concerning is that if you need to brake suddenly for a situation, you may be able to stop safely but the vehicle behind you is likely to crash into the back of you. This can have severe consequences.


What is a Safe Following Distance?

A safe following distance, refers to the space you leave between your vehicle and the one in front of you. It is crucial because it allows you the time and distance to react to any sudden changes or emergencies on the road.

By keeping a safe following distance, you reduce the risk of rear-end crashes, and provide yourself with space to avoid a potential situation. When considering a safe distance, you need to consider two (2) key factors – reaction time and response time.

  • Reaction time is the time that a driver requires to identify a situation or developing situation, decide on an appropriate response, and react accordingly. A fit and alert driver, not under the influence of any substance, needs approximately 1.5 seconds to react to a hazard. As speed increases, so does reaction time.
  • Response time refers to the time a driver requires to respond. Most drivers require at least 1.5 seconds to respond once they have identified and processed the situation.


This guideline of three (3) seconds is suitable for most driving conditions under normal circumstances. However, it is crucial to adjust this distance based on various factors such as weather conditions, road conditions, and the overall flow of traffic. In adverse weather conditions, wets roads or night driving, it is essential to increase the following distance to ensure enough time to brake and avoid collisions. Similarly, in heavy traffic, it may be challenging to maintain a three-second gap, but it is vital to do your best to leave enough space between vehicles.

Maintaining a safe following distance offers several benefits. Firstly, it provides you with the necessary time to react to any sudden changes or emergencies on the road. Imagine a situation where the car in front of you suddenly encounters a hazard and brakes heavily to avoid crashing.

This is where a combination of good hazard awareness coupled with a safe following distance, allows you have enough time to react accordingly and to avoid a corash. On the other hand, if you are tailgating or following too closely, you will be caught off guard and may not have enough time to brake or manoeuvre, leading to a potentially disastrous outcome.

Additionally, a safe following distance helps to prevent rear-end crashes. Rear-end crashes are one of the most common types of crashes on our roads, and they often occur due to inadequate following distances.


Is Travelling too Close Illegal?

In NSW alone, rear-end crashes make up the most recorded crash type. Interestingly enough, between 2017 and 2021, there were 15,151 crashes reported. During this time, statstics show that there were 11,896 rear-end crashes in metro areas compared to regional NSW which recorded  3,255 during the same time period.

These scenarios are all too common on our roads, and they highlight the importance of maintaining a safe following distance. Driving behind another vehicle too closely to stop safely, is an offence in NSW and incurs a monetary fine and loss of three (3) demerit points. More information about understanding the Road Rules can be found here.


Distance is Your Best Friend

When you keep a safe distance, you create a buffer zone that allows you and other drivers to safely brake or take evasive action in urgent situations. By avoiding rear-end crashes, you protect yourself, your passengers, and the occupants of other vehicles from injury or even death.

In addition, maintaining a safe following distance contributes to the overall flow of traffic. When drivers tailgate or follow too closely, it creates a domino effect, causing traffic to become congested and less efficient. By allowing enough space between vehicles, you promote a smoother traffic flow, reduce the risk of sudden braking, and help prevent unnecessary traffic congestion. Ultimately, this benefits everyone on the road, making it safer and more enjoyable.


What if I’m Being Tailgated?

If you notice another vehicle travelling too close behind you, don’t panic. Unfortunately, there are drivers on our roads that continually tailgate other vehicles on a daily basis. It’s not always the case that they’re trying to intimdate you, there may be varying reasons which we will cover in another blog. The main thing is that you maintain focus to the front and continually assess and re-assess what is happening.

If you place your focus to the rear on what the vehicle behind you is doing, you will be missing important things that are happening to the front which may potentially lead to a crash. Don’t do anything that makes you commit to anything unsafe, just to satisfy the needs of the impatient person behind you. Just stay calm and never allow your emotions to take over.

Never do anything unsafe such as intentionally slowing down or jumping on the brakes to antagonise the driver behind you. Remember, they may be affected by a drug or other substance that can lead to “road rage” or worse still, a physical altercation.


Continually Assess & Re-Assess

To ensure that you are maintaining a safe following distance, it is crucial to constantly monitor the vehicle ahead of you. Pay attention to its brake lights and turn signals, as well as any visible signs of the driver’s behaviour. If you notice any signs of potential trouble, such as erratic driving, distraction, or a loose load, it is even more important to increase your following distance.

In conclusion, maintaining a safe following distance is paramount to ensuring road safety. By leaving enough space between your vehicle and the one in front of you, you provide yourself with the time and distance necessary to react to any sudden changes on the road. This practice helps prevent crashes, reduces the risk of rear-end collisions, and contributes to a smoother traffic flow. Remember to always maintain a minimum of three (3) seconds of distance under normal conditions and adjust accordingly based on the prevailing factors. By making safe following distances a habit, you contribute to making our roads safer for everyone.


RMS Practical Driving Test

During your driving test, you will assessed on speed management. This includes a safe following distance. If you travel too close behind another vehicle and make no attempt to re-establish a three (3) second gap, you will fail your driving test.


Learn Drive Survive® Safer Drivers Course

If you’re a learner driver or you know a learner driver under the age 25 and who has at least fifty (50) actual driving hours, why not learn from an experienced and passionate team of driver educators. Enrol in a Safer Drivers Course with Learn Drive Survive® and learn about the significance of safe following practices, highlighting its role in preventing rear-end crashes and ensuring road safety. To book a course simply click here. Alternatively, call our friendly team on 1800 898 969.