Safe Following Distance


Driving a commercial truck is a major responsibility, and keeping a safe following distance is one of the most crucial aspects of safe driving. The following distance is the distance between your truck and the vehicle ahead of you. While maintaining a suitable following distance may appear to be an easy habit, it is crucial for preventing accidents and ensuring everyone’s safety on the road. In this piece, we will discuss the significance of maintaining a safe following distance and provide evidence to encourage Canadian commercial truck drivers to practice this key driving behaviour.

What Is the Importance of Following Distance?
Consider driving a large commercial truck in front of you and it comes to a complete stop. Tailgating is an unavoidable catastrophe. Maintaining a safe following distance functions as a buffer zone, allowing you enough time to react and respond to any unexpected road events.

Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of commercial truck crashes, according to Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) research. In fact, one-third of all collisions are rear-end crashes, underscoring the crucial importance of maintaining a safe following distance for drivers.

The Rule of Two Seconds
While the “2-second rule” is a straightforward method for calculating a safe following distance, it is incorrect. As a safety professional, I still hear that drivers erroneously follow this rule of thumb, putting themselves and the public in danger. What ever happened to the 1 second for each foot of vehicle?

The myth of the 2-second rule, while easy to remember and useful in responding to different driving conditions such as severe weather or heavy traffic. However, you will quickly see that it is terribly inadequate and only applies to passenger automobiles. When moving at speeds greater than 70 km per hour, the recommended period is closer to 6-7 seconds. I believe that 4 seconds anywhere else is acceptable if the weather is nice and the roads are dry.

Consider a tractor-trailer travelling at 100 km/h when the driver detects traffic slowing ahead. How long do you think it will take to come to an end? At 100Km/h, we are in a vehicle travelling at 27.7 metres per second (m/s), and a person will normally begin braking in roughly 2 seconds, meaning that the vehicle has travelled 60m. To come to a complete halt, it will take 4 seconds and 40 meters. These days, how often do we observe 100 meters or more between tractor-trailers and other vehicles?

The Advantages of Maintaining a Safe Following Distance
Maintaining a safe following distance gives a number of benefits that can increase both your driving pleasure, preserve mental wellbeing by reducing stress and promote  the safety of others on the road.

  1. Collision Avoidance: Maintaining a fair distance decreases the likelihood of rear-end collisions, which can inflict severe damage to both vehicles and result in injuries or fatalities.
  2. Less Stress: Tailgating can be stressful for both you and the driver in front of you. Maintaining a safe following distance promotes a more comfortable and pleasurable driving experience.
  3. Increased Decision Time: Maintaining an appropriate following distance gives you more time to respond to sudden stops, allowing you to brake smoothly and avoid potential crashes.
  4. Increased Visibility: Maintaining a safe following distance behind the automobile in front of you allows you to see the road more clearly, allowing you to anticipate potential hazards and plan your actions accordingly.
  5. Increased Fuel Efficiency: The constant stopping and acceleration caused by tailgating might lead to increased fuel consumption. Driving at a consistent speed over a long distance can help you save fuel and reduce your carbon footprint.

Providing a Good Example
You play an essential role as commercial truck drivers in setting a good example for others on the road. Following at a safe distance encourages other drivers to do the same. Driving responsibly contributes to a safer and more harmonious driving environment for all.

Tips for Keeping a Safe Following Distance

  1. Be Alert: Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you and anticipate potential problems such as traffic congestion or an abrupt stop.
  2. Be Patient: Avoid aggressive driving and tailgating even if you feel squeezed by other vehicles. Your and others’ safety comes first.
  3. Adjust in Bad Weather: In bad weather, increase your following distance to ensure adequate braking time and avoid skidding.
  4. Maintain a Safe Speed: Avoiding speeding reduces reaction time and can result in more serious accidents.
  5. Make Good Use of Technology: Some new commercial trucks come equipped with additional safety measures such as autonomous emergency braking systems. Use these technologies correctly to improve safety.

Keeping a safe following distance is a simple but effective practice that can make a significant difference in road safety for commercial truck drivers and other road users. By adhering to the 4-second rule and driving responsibly, you become an advocate for safer roads and contribute to the development of a positive driving culture across Canada. Keep your distance, be cautious, and let’s all work together to make our roads safer in the future.

Jamie Beaudoin is a trucking health and safety specialist. He has been involved in the industry for 12 years in various capacities. He started as a driver and worked his way through the ranks. Currently works as a freelance consultant assisting companies in improving safety culture and regulatory compliance. He is currently pursuing his BCRSP designation. James Beaudoin Trucking Health and Safety Specialist