Tailgating Doesn’t Mean ME Because I’m a Good Driver!

Many drivers tailgate in an extreme way and the vast majority of them believe that they are a “good driver” and they have got “good reactions” so they can handle it if things go wrong, but sadly this is simply not true.  This article is the “here’s why!

Heavy traffic on I-90 at Chicago.
Some serious tailgating in the right hand lane of I-90 at Chicago. It only needs two vehicles to bump and the traffic tailback that can result while the driving lanes are cleared, especially if someone is hurt, will delay thousands of people for a significant time. (Copyright image, 2012.)

Around the developed world, crashes due to tailgating comprise a significant proportion of all collisions.  For example, according to Highways England, one in eight of all crashes involve at least one vehicle running into the back of another, and this figure is likely to be similar in all developed nations.

The Reaction Time Myth

The first problem with published “average reaction times” was that up until very recently they were wrong — typically by a factor of two.

For example, in Britain — one of the world’s top two road safety countries over a period of decades — the estimated reaction time for all drivers is still embarrassingly being published as two-thirds of a second, and yet this 0.67 seconds idea has long since been shown to be only around half of the true figure, which is now typically said to be between 1.33 and 1.5 seconds.  One crucial necessity in establishing the recent, more accurate figures was that testing had to take place in a manner which didn’t pre-warn the people concerned that they were going to have their reactions tested.  The alternative gets them ready for the test and quite clearly invalidates the result.

Photograph of Eddie Wren in the WSO's seat of an RAF Hawk Jet, prior to a ten-plane full military exercise over northern England and central Scotland; 2003.
The writer of this article, Eddie Wren, in the Weapons Systems Operator’s seat of an RAF Hawk Jet, prior to a ten-plane full combat exercise — a display of the pilot’s “vehicle” control and concentration second to none. (Copyright image, 2003.)

Some people will point out that racing drivers and fighter pilots have vastly better reaction times than the 1.33 seconds mentioned above and this is entirely true, but that is because it is an essential element of their work.  It is also highly relevant to the fact that people in both of these categories are tired after relatively short races or flights, primarily because concentrating solidly, at that level, undeniably is hard work.

Away from the racetrack, however, it has been shown that racing drivers not only get more speeding tickets than regular drivers but also, crucially, that they have more crashes.[Source: IIHS]   At the very least, this indicates a big change of attitude between their race driving and their public road driving.

Even the squadron of pilots with whom I had the immense and intense privilege of doing what American people would refer to as a “Top Gun” flight — see the above photograph — readily admitted that the biggest cause of injuries they suffered while on the ground came from car crashes.  But how can that be?  How can men and women who regularly do extensive low-flying exercises just 250 feet above the ground while travelling at approximately 800 feet per second then go and get into a car and have a crash, somewhere between 30 and 70mph?  How does that make sense?

It’s because we don’t concentrate properly in a car. We know that’s what it is,”  I was told.

And interestingly I have had exactly the same “confession” when I have had conversations with various airline pilots, too, and a critical problem when drivers don’t concentrate enough is that reaction times get significantly longer than those of which a very alert, well-trained person is capable.  And this is why driving too close to the vehicle ahead can be very dangerous.

So — and here is a key point — if even fighter pilots and airline pilots don’t concentrate enough to stay safe when driving on public roads, what chance do we mere mortals have?

Interestingly, there is an answer.

Photograph of one pick-up truck following another at what might seem like a sensible distance, but because of a very wet road and heavy spray, the situation amounts to tailgating (meaning an indequate fiollowing distance).
Many drivers don’t even recognize this sort of situation as tailgating but for two combined reasons it is.  In addition, it is never safe to say “the vehicle ahead has to brake to a stop so I can brake at the same time,” because under some circumstances the vehicle ahead of you may collide with a static object such as a previous crash, a load that has fallen from a truck, or a broken down vehicle in the traffic lane, and so come to a violently sudden stop.  The driver of the following vehicle also has a dramatically reduced view beyond the vehicle being followed, in this case specifically because of the bad weather so there may be no advanced warning.  See the article text.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

What both of the above sets of pilots didn’t mention, although their words implied it, was that ultimately their real error while driving was – dare I say – even more important than concentration.  For the answer to what this is, see  The Golden Rule of Safe Driving.

Photograph of a moving block / platoon of heavy traffic moving at 35-40mph.
Another situation where many drivers inaccurately don’t consider themselves to be ‘tailgating’ but this three-lane ‘platoon’ was travelling around 35-40mph so the average reaction time of 1.33-1.5 seconds would require a minimum of a 90-foot gap PLUS the necessary braking distance, so around 160 feet (or just over half an American football field). Collisions in these moderate-speed conditions are relatively frequent but less likely to cause serious injuries. The drivers at fault will inevitably seek to blame other people, not themselves. (Copyright image, 2018.)

By far the most comprehensive and research-proven driver training in the world, in relation to public roads, is correctly known as the System of Car Control, more recently also known by the acronym of IPSGA.  It has been developed since 1935 and is reviewed and upgraded by UK police advanced driving instructors as necessary, on an annual basis.

Obtaining advanced qualifications for the typical police scenario both for cars and motorcycles requires a minimum of ten weeks (400 hours) of full-time training, and this, in turn is anywhere from 2-10 times longer than it takes to obtain a Private Pilot’s Licence [PPL] and 5-10 times longer than the driver training for most U.S. highway patrol officers and state troopers, so it is easy to see that this is no small undertaking.

At the police end of such training is the need to be able to drive at extreme speeds on public roads, far in excess of the speed limits, in absolute safety, and this explains the need for such a lengthy regime.  However, “the System,” as it is often referred to, was adapted and made available for civilian drivers over 60 years ago, in 1955, and — uniquely in the USA – this is what we teach on our courses at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA], obviously at much shorter durations starting at one-day courses.  The key point here is that your corporate or governmental personnel are taught up to 120+ important aspects of safe driving (not including the aforementioned high speed aspects!), depending upon the duration of the selected courses.  And if you’ve ever been told that only five or six key items need to be taught/learned to make a driver safe, you may wish to urgently reconsider that seriously inadequate claim.

So — briefly but importantly going back to the avoidance of tailgating — hopefully, by now, everyone will already be aware that what used to be referred to as the two-second rule has effectively been dead and buried for the last few years.  Because of the research on the reaction times of typical adult drivers, a full one-second needs to be added to those previous and now out-of-date guidelines.

Photograph of a pick-up truck tailgating a car.
Just a few feet behind at over 70mph — this really is tailgating at its least intelligent and most dangerous.  With a gap of no more than 20 feet at this speed, the ridiculously inadequate *time* gap between the vehicles is less than one-fifth of a second.  (Copyright image, 2011.)

Driving as so many drivers do, just a few feet behind the vehicle ahead is simply a crash waiting to happen, and drivers in the second and subsequent vehicles are the ones who unquestionably will be to blame.

Oh, and if anyone has ever talked to you about how many “car lengths” to leave as a gap when following another vehicle, please throw that information straight into the garbage.  It has always been ludicrously inadequate and dangerous.

At ADoNA, we therefore teach a three-second* minimum following distance, and how to get it right easily and simply every time.  Importantly, however, and for reasons mentioned above, we also teach safe variations for all weather conditions and for poor visibility.

*Note: Some organizations recommend a minimum of four seconds but that’s alright.  Although the fourth second is not actually necessary for a normal driver, there is nothing wrong with extra safety margin.

A small 'platoon' of cars, all tailgating each other.
Several drivers in the cars shown here have put themselves into an aggressively unforgiving situation, only one aspect of which is the fact that they are all tailgating. (Copyright image, 2011.)

The final photograph with this article, above, brings additional dangers into the tailgating equation, and naturally these, too, are covered during the training.

CEO Eddie Wren’s driver training and traffic safety résumé

__________

As always, please be aware that this website is registered with the United States Copyright Office and that punitive legal action for damages may be taken against anyone who breaches our copyright. This, however, does not stop you from posting links to any of our pages, and you are welcome to do so.

Flashback to 2003 – The Astonishing Volvo Safety Concept Car – Still Unmatched

First published in 2003

New Introduction

Back in 2003, Volvo built their utterly remarkable Safety Concept Car [SCC] as a test bed for a huge range of new safety technologies they were then testing, with a view to introducing the most effective and worthwhile into their production cars.  The SCC was demonstrated to the automotive media in the USA on just two days — one on the west coast and one on the east coast — and through our not-for-profit organisation, Drive and Stay Alive, I had the good fortune to be invited to attend the east coast day in Manhattan, to drive it.

In just the 15 years since then, we have gone from talking primarily just about increased safety to a now almost out-of-control rush to have self-driving vehicles before even the semi-autonomous prototypes can be shown to increase rather than decrease safety.

Photograph of the 2003 Volvo Safety Concept Car.
The 2003, $8 Million, Volvo Safety Concept Car [SCC] (Photo: Copyright 2003, Volvo Cars)
Continue reading “Flashback to 2003 – The Astonishing Volvo Safety Concept Car – Still Unmatched”

Disconnected Buttons at New York City Crosswalks Still Frustrate Pedestrians

Instruction sign for an American, button-operated crosswalk.
Clear instructions, but if pedestrians are kept waiting too long some of them will take chances and the whole purpose of safe crosswalks is defeated. (And it’s not just drivers who have places to get to.) Copyright image, 2018.

Back in 2004, it was reported in U.S. national media that the “push-to-cross” buttons at most of New York City’s crosswalks were disconnected to prevent pedestrians from interrupting traffic flow, and it has just been revealed that now, in 2018, an even greater proportion of the City’s crosswalks have non-functional buttons.

The stated purpose of delaying pedestrians in this manner is to keep vehicles moving and reduce traffic jams.  This may be all well and good when traffic is busy but this approach, when used around the clock, inevitably will annoy pedestrians.

Continue reading “Disconnected Buttons at New York City Crosswalks Still Frustrate Pedestrians”

Cruise Control is More Important and More Useful than Most Drivers Realize

What could any experienced driver possibly need to learn about cruise control?  You would be surprised!  Most drivers who attend our courses don’t know all of its benefits, or more importantly all of its possible risks.

The switches for cruise control can look different from one automaker to another but they all cover the same functions. (Copyright image, 2018.)

Continue reading “Cruise Control is More Important and More Useful than Most Drivers Realize”