A bad driving habit that too many drivers share becomes especially dangerous in winter. Any guesses on what I’m talking about? Here’s a clue: it’s ranked #6 in the list of unsafe driving acts contributing to car and truck crashes.

It is none other than Following Too Closely. It’s so dangerous, it’s even got a law specifically against it in Washington State. 

Most drivers keep a following distance of 1.5 to 2.5 seconds. However, a better distance to follow is four seconds – on dry, daytime roads. In wintry conditions, experts recommend drivers give five or six seconds between their car and the vehicle in front. This gives drivers not just more time to stop, but allows better visibility around the vehicles in front of them. Should they be rear-ended themselves, there’s a bigger space to prevent them from the chain-reaction of crashing into the vehicle in front of them. Imagine if the drivers in the Netherlands had maintained a safe following distance – all 150 of them! That’s how many vehicles were involved in the biggest mult-vehicle crash on record.

But wait, if I drive a large SUV or have four-wheel-drive, I’ve got an advantage in snow and ice, right? Wrong! Four-wheel-drive vehicles can’t stop any better than other vehicles on icy surfaces.

It bears repeating: it’s recommended that you double (or if you want to be really cautious — triple) your normal distance between cars, giving yourself a minimum braking distance of six seconds. Put another way, for every 10 mph (16 kph) you’re traveling, you should give yourself four car lengths of space. So if you’re traveling at 30 mph (48 kph), you should have 12 car lengths between you and the vehicle ahead of you.

Sometimes tailgating happens not because of lack of attention, but too much of it in the wrong place: the other (horrible) driver. If you find yourself getting mad at the driver in front of you, here are some tips to make your journey safer and more pleasurable:

  • Take deep, belly breaths. Take as many as you need to relax and let go of the negative thoughts about this complete stranger in front of you. 
  • Listen to music you enjoy. This can help you refocus on something positive and let go of what’s bothering you.
  • Change lanes if you can. Or just pull over for a few moments while you regain your composure. 
  • Remember, you don’t get there any faster if you speed.

Be safe out there, and enjoy the ride. 

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