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.

The ‘Culture’ You Come From Can Radically Affect Your Safety on the Road

August 22, 2018

In 2007, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety published an excellent book which since then has been one of our key “go to” resources for valuable guidelines.  Its title was: Improving Traffic Safety Culture in the United States — The Journey Forward  [See footnote for a relevant excerpt].

There can be no doubt that geographical, political, socio-economic and — importantly — workplace aspects of culture have a major influence  on road safety, and this can be seen not only from one country to another but often from region to region within a country.

Equally, there can be no doubt that traffic safety interventions which fail to consider and adapt to relevant aspects of local cultures are commonly doomed to failure.

Continue reading “The ‘Culture’ You Come From Can Radically Affect Your Safety on the Road”

Takata Airbag Recall: List of All Affected Vehicles (July 2018)

The Takata airbag crisis has become so huge that a big reminder is needed, so this article gives access to a list of all of the different types of vehicle affected.  Check the list for yours, today!

Photograph of a car that has just been in a collision. The airbags have inflated but are now in the process of deflating, and the car's two occupants are still in their seats, stunned.
This photo was taken no more than 2 seconds after the collision that triggered the airbags, which are now in the process of deflating. The driver and his passenger are still in the car, stunned. Possibly through distraction, the car driver had just collided with the back of a stationary truck — not an “accident,” an act of negligence; a collision. Copyright image.

Continue reading “Takata Airbag Recall: List of All Affected Vehicles (July 2018)”

Dangerous Passing in the Early Morning

As we were driving southwards, at the very start of the morning rush hour, this road sweeper went by in the opposite direction, kicking up a cloud of thick dust.

Photo of a pavement sweeper in a long construction zone.
A slow-moving road sweeper — perhaps doing 15-20mph — triggered some drivers to dangerously overtake it illegally, on double yellow lines.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

Continue reading “Dangerous Passing in the Early Morning”

International Road Safety Annual Report 2018 – The USA Does Very Badly Again

In the latest edition of what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive international summary of global road safety each year, the mission statement for the USA is:  ‘Dedicated to achieving the highest standards of excellence in motor vehicle safety and reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes.’  However, as the following figures and references will show, this stated goal may be true regarding the intent but actual U.S. outcomes over recent decades have been a very long way indeed from any “highest standards of excellence.”

Photograph of the scene of a fatal road crash in the USA.
A fatal road traffic crash (not “accident”) which I encountered by chance during my frequent travel to conduct safe / defensive / advanced driving courses throughout the USA. (Copyright image, 2012.)

Continue reading “International Road Safety Annual Report 2018 – The USA Does Very Badly Again”

Runaway Vehicle Fatalities Such as the Death of Actor Anton Yelchin are Frequently and Easily Avoidable

A law suit was settled last week in death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, who was crushed when his own SUV rolled on a slope and pinned him against the mailbox he was checking.

Sadly, however, deaths like this where a vehicle rolls away despite having ostensibly been left in ‘Park’ are all too common and actually have a  lot to do with the endemic incompetence of the majority of people who write state drivers manuals throughout the USA and yet have little-to-zero expertise in the subject of best-practise safe driving.

Photograph of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin
Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin at The Voice Awards, 2011. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons)

Continue reading “Runaway Vehicle Fatalities Such as the Death of Actor Anton Yelchin are Frequently and Easily Avoidable”

Driving Dangers on Big Bridges

On sunny days, or at dawn & sunset, big road bridges can often look very attractive, but when the weather takes a turn for the worse, they can create significant dangers for the unwary driver.

News has just been published today that a truck driver has been killed after high winds apparently pushed his vehicle through the safety fence on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Tragically the driver lost his life.

This is particularly saddening for me as I went over that bridge, in mildly bad but contrarily beautiful weather, just a few weeks ago while instructing on an advanced driving course in Maryland and Delaware.

Thin fog as we drove eastwards across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The relatively thin morning fog that we met when driving eastwards over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was misleading. It had been much thicker and potentially more dangerous only a few minutes earlier. (Copyright image.)

Continue reading “Driving Dangers on Big Bridges”

Semi-autonomous Cars — An Advanced Driving Course for Chauffeurs in their Employer’s Tesla

Given that at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] we teach defensive and advanced driving, the use of assistance features which reduce the tasks and sadly also the concentration of drivers is not a key area for us.  (How new safety technology might actually be making our driving worse.)

That aspect, however, is not the theme of this write-up.  Instead, I will focus on the Tesla being driven normally, with the minimum of automated features and with maximum smoothness for the chauffeur context plus, of course, maximum regard for driving safely

A Tesla S that we used on an ADoNA advanced driving "safety and smoothness" course for chauffeurs, looking good in a color that's close to the famed "British Racing Green."
The Tesla Model S 85 used on an advanced driving “safety and smoothness” course for chauffeurs, looking good in a color that’s close to the famed “British Racing Green”. (Copyright image)

Continue reading “Semi-autonomous Cars — An Advanced Driving Course for Chauffeurs in their Employer’s Tesla”

Good Observations for Safe Driving (with Photographs)

The photographs in this article were taken around a Bronze Advanced Driving course, with Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA], in south east Massachusetts.   They each show typical driving scenes but give only a very small insight into the discussions about the standards of the observations that are essential to effective driver training and to all safe driving.

Photograph taken from a vehicle driving through a small Massacusetts town, showing various potentially hazardous scenarios.
A typical driving scenario in beautiful, small-town America, showing many potential hazards that most drivers sadly get away with ignoring, but each of which, when ignored, can at the very least result in damaged vehicles or something much worse.   Copyright image.

Continue reading “Good Observations for Safe Driving (with Photographs)”

In Winter some Drivers make Extremely Dangerous Overtakes

One of the biggest contributory causes of serious-injury and fatal road crashes in the USA (and the rest of the world) is speed.

Typically, speeds in excess of the posted limit, or that are within the limit but are inappropriate for the circumstances, are factors in around 28-30 percent of collisions where people are ‘Killed or Seriously Injured’ [KSI].  In American terms, this represents about 11,000 people killed and approaching a million people injured each year  as a direct result of those who drive too fast.

A dangerous driver crazily overtaking our car, despite the terrible visibility and the very slippery road surface conditions.
From our passenger seat, I photographed this dangerous driver crazily overtaking our car, despite the terrible visibility and the very slippery road surface conditions. Copyright photo.
Photograph of huge quantities of snow being thrown up from the wheels of a pick-up truck during a potentially deadly passing maneuver.
The driver of this pick-up truck is doing a homicidal overtake, with a very poor view ahead and on a slippery, snow-covered road, and he is now cutting in dangerously close ahead. The snow coming up from his wheels is about to bury our windshield and almost entirely block our view. (See the next two photographs in the sequence for what happens next)! Copyright image.
This is what you, as a driver, need to be ready for, even when it is just rain and heavy water spray, the impact of the snow and your potential temporary loss of your entire view.
This is what you, as a driver, need to be ready for, even when it is just rain and heavy water spray: the impact of the water or snow and your potential temporary loss of your entire view.  Where’s the pick-up?  (Our view was completely lost a moment after this photo was taken.)  Copyright image.
Moments later, after we had cautiously dropped our speed and the idiot in the driver had pulled ahead of us, the two vehicles coming the other way through the severely-limited visibility came into sight. If they had been just three or four seconds earlier, there would have been bodies in hospital and perhaps in the morgue.
Moments later, after we had cautiously dropped our speed and the idiot driver in the pick-up had pulled ahead of us, the two vehicles coming the other way through the severely-limited visibility came into sight. If they had been just a couple of seconds earlier, there would have been bodies in the hospitals and perhaps in the morgue.   Copyright image.

Clearly then, excessive speed, even when below the posted limit, truly is a killer — big time — despite all of the people who emptily argue that this situation is mere propaganda and is untrue.

If excessive speed is dangerous, and it is, there is still an additional aspect that defies any logic or any excuse, and that is speeding in bad weather.  And for our purposes, bad weather extends to include any situation where visibility is reduced, either through simple low-light or darkness, and also airborne view limitations such as mist, fog, dust, smoke or falling rain and snow, together with any cause of slippery road surfaces.

We hope the photographs that accompany this article give you pause for thought.  The driver of the silver pick-up truck in this incident could very easily have caused the deaths of several people.  All it would have taken was for an oncoming vehicle to loom out of the misty murk at the wrong moment and a collision would have been inescapable.  Was he driving at a speed inappropriate for the circumstances?  You betcha!

Even without a vehicle coming the other way, the pick-up driver caused significant risk to ourselves by unnecessarily throwing a large quantity of snow up onto the windscreen of our car as he passed and then pulled directly in front of us with less than a car length between the vehicles (see more on this aspect), and that alone was unforgivable.

Please don’t ever be ‘that’ driver, and equally importantly, be prepared for the day when you will encounter somebody as incompetent and brainless as this particular pick-up driver was.  Naturally, this involves getting your wipers onto maximum speed — in advance if possible — slowing down promptly but safely (there may be another vehicle close behind, and of course the road is slippery).  Then hold a steady course as you do this and don’t allow the situation to panic you.

Last but by no means least, always, yes always, drive with low beam headlights on, day and night, sunshine or rain, and even in preference to Daytime Running Lights.

Finally, please note that these are general comments and do not amount in any way to specific advice.  Please see our Disclaimer in this context.