The rear-end collision is the most common type of automobile crash. Almost 40% of the six million accidents that happen each year are rear-end collisions. Furthermore, almost 87% of the crashes were caused from drivers not paying adequate attention to the road.
When you’re driving, the one space you can completely control is the distance from your vehicle to the vehicle in front of you. This distance is known as your safety zone. It can give you a One Second Advantage™, not only in reacting to situations that arise in front of you, but around and behind you as well. Awareness of the vehicles in front of you and those behind you is critical in managing your safety zone to prevent rear-end collisions.
A safety zone of at least two seconds is recommended during normal conditions. Inclement weather, traffic conditions and personal preferences could all require your safety zone to be larger. To gauge an adequate amount space while driving on the highway, choose a stationary object on the side of the road. As the vehicle in front of you passes that object, begin counting: "one one-thousand, two one-thousand.” If you pass the stationary object before you finish saying "two one-thousand" your safety zone is too small.
In an urban setting, factors such as sudden turns, pedestrians and traffic controls can alter the situation you’re in and how you manage your safety zone. Even in tight, slow-moving traffic, you still need to allow ample room to escape potential problems from the front, rear or sides of your vehicle. When stopped, leave enough space so you can see the tires of the vehicle in front of you touch the road. If that vehicle stalls or begins to roll backward, you will have some room to react and escape. If a vehicle comes up too fast behind you, the space in front should allow you to avoid impact or at least avoid hitting the vehicle in front of you.
Be wary though, sometimes other drivers will often perceive your safety zone as an opportunity to jump in front of you, temporarily eliminating your safety zone. The potential anger at being cut off can quickly escalate into road rage and irrational, dangerous driving decisions. However, it’s best to keep your cool and develop a habit of immediately re-establishing your safety zone. On average, it only takes two seconds to re-establish a safety zone. That means, even if you get cut off thirty times in a day, you will have invested only one additional minute in your safety—which is always worth it.
Remember, the only space on the road you are in complete control of is the space in front of your vehicle. There is no good way to stop a tailgater. Almost one third of rear-end collisions involve tailgating. But, speeding up to get away from a tailgater only serves to eliminate your front safety zone and will not necessarily create more space behind you. If you are anticipating a possibly hazardous situation you can use the ReadyBrake™ technique as a warning to drivers behind you that they need to pay attention to a situation farther ahead. ReadyBrake means you are ready to apply brakes if needed. With this technique you are taking the slack or free play out of the brake pedal without engaging the brakes. Take your right foot off the accelerator and touch the brake pedal. This gets the brake lights on while you are looking ahead and making decisions; alerting those behind you that there is a situation ahead so they may react sooner as well. If you ultimately need your brakes you have saved the time required to get your foot from the gas pedal to the brake.
It is important to look for an escape route—or paths you can take to avoid an incident in every type of driving condition. While your safety zone gives you the opportunity to react on the road, escape routes give you options.This can include pulling into the left lane to get around someone or pulling on the shoulder to avoid a collision.
By looking farther ahead you will see the situation sooner, have more time to process the information, and ultimately, more time to react. As you drive, you should constantly be thinking of what you would do if an incident happened in front of you. Train yourself to look for escape routes everywhere and soon it will become an automatic part of your driving technique and help to prevent you from either causing a rear-end collision with a vehicle in front of you or sustaining one from a vehicle behind you.
(ReadyBrake and The One Second Advantage are trademarks of Driving Dynamics Inc.)