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