Managing space is key to being a defensive driver. In order for any driver to be able to react to situations that come up it is important to have space around your vehicle – front, back and on the sides, if possible. The most critical space is the space you leave between you and the vehicle in front of you. In the State of Arizona the recommended space rule is 3 to 6 seconds, in other States it is 2 to 4 seconds. In my opinion MORE is always better. How do you measure seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you? While following at a constant distance, identify a stationary object like a sign or a tree and wait until the vehicle in front of you has passed that object and count one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand until your vehicle comes to the object. Remember that speed matters — the faster you are travelling, the more space you need to maintain that cushion.
It is particularly important for a young driver to know how much space they have in front of them and to maintain a minimum of 4 seconds. The reason is simple: if anything out of the ordinary happens, and it does on a pretty regular basis, they will need enough space to see it, decide what to do and then execute their decision. All of this happens quickly, and with little space it is virtually impossible to avoid a collision.
Some people will say, “it isn’t possible to leave space when there is heavy traffic.” I would beg to differ with you. Whenever I am on the road I constantly “test” what we “preach” and I am here to tell you that it is possible. Do people cut in? Sometimes, but not as often as you would think AND when I leave more space between myself and the person in front of me, the person behind me tends to widen their space between their car and mine – it is a win-win all around.
It is also important to maintain a much larger space cushion when driving in inclement weather such as rain, snow or ice. The rule is to reduce your speed by at least 1/3 of the posted speed limit and maintain a larger space cushion. When driving larger vehicles such as trucks or SUV’s more space is required to stop those vehicles. Remember, for novice drivers, bigger is not necessarily better. Large vehicles are difficult to control and stop for a novice driver. A regular sized sedan, with a small engine and safety features is a good choice, if possible.
How do you get space behind you? One of the strategies I mentioned above: the more space you leave, the more likely the person behind you will leave more space as well. Use your signals when you are going to lane change or turn. It is how you communicate your intentions to other drivers. Covering the brakes is another strategy, where you place your foot lightly on the brake pedal without applying any pressure. The brake lights will go on and it signals the driver behind you that you are slowing down. Be careful not to apply pressure and actually brake, particularly if someone is very close to you, because if they are not paying close attention they may hit you from behind.
Teach your new driver to be aware of what is going on around them at all times. Driving in the right lane where they have a shoulder as an option and where they can maintain the speed limit is a good place for them to drive. Just remember space will ALWAYS be your friend and you will find once you get into the habit of maintaining a safe space cushion, it will become second nature to you no matter what the traffic conditions.
We have specific exercises included in our Defensive Driving curriculum which demonstrate all these points. If you don’t believe that you need that much space, give us a call and we will be happy to demonstrate why even you, as a seasoned driver, need to maintain a lot more space than what standard practice on our roads seems to be.