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Driving on the road is something that cannot be avoided in Alabama if you want to be able to get around. However, driving comes with its own hazards that drivers need to be aware of. One of the most common types of crashes is one where one vehicle collides with another. According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, 71.8% of all crashes in 2017 fell under this accident category. This is a large portion of accidents and while you cannot avoid all crashes, you can take one simple and specific step to lessen the likelihood of an accident. That one thing is leaving a safe distance between cars while driving.

More Space Allows for More Stopping Time

The main reason why leaving more space between your car and the car in front of you is that is allows for more stopping time. You cannot control what another driver is going to do but you can control what you can do in your own vehicle. In order to give yourself as much time to react when something does not go as it should or there is a sudden change in what the car in front of you is doing, is to give yourself more space to react. More space between cars means you get more stopping time. If you do not give yourself enough space and you are right behind a vehicle and they suddenly stop, you will more than likely run right into the back of them. The lack of space between cars means you did not leave yourself with extra time to stop your own vehicle. The more room you have, the more likely you are to stop before you hit a vehicle in front of you.

What Does a Safe Distance Look Like?

There is not a quick rule of thumb that is universal no matter what the driving conditions are. However, that does not mean that you do not have a reliable way to determine how much space that you should leave between your car and the car in front of you. As a rule of thumb, you should leave more space when you are driving faster, and you should also leave more space when the conditions are not good for driving. For example, when it is raining or snowing outside, you should leave more space in front of you than you normally would in sunny and dry conditions. An easy way to measure how much space you should leave in front of you is by car lengths. You will hear a lot of people talk about how many car lengths they should leave in front of them.

While you cannot exactly measure this out, you can estimate this while driving so you can keep at a safe distance. Some commonly used measurements, provided by SafeLite, when driving at a speed of 55 miles per hour include:
  • Keep 16 car lengths between you and another car
  • Keep 20 car lengths between you and a semi-truck
  • Keep 33 car lengths between you and an emergency vehicle
  • Keep 4 car lengths between you and a farm tractor (since they travel at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour)
  • Keep 5 car lengths between you and a snow plow (since they travel at a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour)

While you are unlikely to see many snow plows in Alabama, it is a good reference point for other automobiles you may find on the road.

Why Many People Follow the "Two-Second" Rule

The above section provides a lot of helpful information if you are driving at a speed of 55 miles per hour. However, you will be traveling at different speeds on different roads and in different conditions. Because of this, it is good to know how to generally estimate how much space you need to leave. An easy trick is the "two second" rule. With this rule, the idea is that you are traveling two seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. When there is inclement weather, you may want to add in a buffer and use the "three second" rule instead. One thing to note is that this is not a guideline to provide a safe driving distance but instead it will give you the time to react, so you can brake and avoid rear-end accidents. The more time you have allotted for this, the more distance should be between your car and the car in front. This is a great general rule as it can be applied to any speed, any condition, or any road. You can change the amount of space based on your speed because the faster you go, the more space you will need to come to a complete stop. You can use this general rule to make an educated decision on the distance between you and the car in front, no matter where you are driving or what is happening outside.

When in Doubt, Leave More Space

These simple tips can help you better determine how much space to leave in order to be safer on the road for yourself and for others. When in doubt, it is always better to leave more space. You can only anticipate what your car or other cars will do in an unfortunate situation, so it is important to be evaluating everything as you are driving in order to be safe and avoid accidents. Things can change in an instant and you need to be alert and ready to react. While leaving more space may agitate impatient drivers who are not paying attention to what is happening around them, you will have peace of mind knowing that you are leaving yourself plenty of space to brake in time. If you happen to be in a situation that leads you to want to be more careful, such as suspicion of a drunk driver weaving in and out of the lane in front of you, that is the perfect time to leave additional space because it is always better to be safe than sorry. Use the "two second" rule to give you your baseline and then determine from there if you should leave even more space - you will thank yourself for this later.

You should always leave plenty of space no matter the circumstances. However, unfortunately sometimes accidents are unavoidable. If you do happen to get into an accident - whether you are driving too close to someone or there is someone too close to you - after you call your insurance company, be sure to contact us. If you are injured in the accident, you may have a case and we would love to help guide you through the often complicated and overwhelming process.

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