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Following too closely: Three-second rule

November 6, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Drivers tailgate for many reasons. Drivers with aggressive or angry personalities, tight schedules or simply the desire to pass can be tailgaters. However, most drivers have little insight into the danger they create by following too closely.

Vehicle and Traffic Law, paragraph 1129, requires drivers to not follow another vehicle more closely than is "reasonable and prudent," having due regard for the speed of such vehicles, the amount of traffic, and the condition of the highway.

So what's reasonable and prudent? The answer is "three seconds." Traffic experts recommend that you keep at least three seconds between you and the car in front. When you see the vehicle in front of you pass a stationary object, such as a utility pole or sign, count to three seconds, and if you arrive at the same object before you get to three seconds, you are too close drop back. Three seconds is the recommended spacing under good driving conditions. When conditions deteriorate because of weather, darkness, fatigue etc more spacing is required.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 40 percent of all automobile crashes involve tailgating, or more formally, following too closely. Although most of these crashes involve property damage and often injury, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2006, 424 people died where "Following Improperly" or "Following Too Closely" was noted as the cause.

Should you receive a ticket for this violation, you may be fined up to $150 plus a mandatory surcharge of $50 to $55 and you could be jailed for up to 15 days for the first offense. You also get four points against your license.

One important caution: Even if you have the spacing, it won't prevent you from rear-ending someone if you are not paying attention to your driving. If you are looking around, fiddling with the radio or CD player, or engaging in other common driver distractions such a talking on a cell phone, it's only a matter of time before you will rear-end someone.

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to and find many more "Did You Know" articles. Know the law, and drive safely.

Dave Werner can be reached at



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