What is a safe distance between cars when driving?

6 minute read Published on Feb 15, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

What is a safe distance between cars when driving?

If you want to avoid common car accidents, it’s important to know what a safe following distance is when driving. Below, we explain why a distance of two car lengths is so important.

What is the safe distance between cars when driving?

If you want to maintain a safe following distance while driving, you should employ one of two rules: the two car lengths’ worth of space rule and the three-second rule. The purpose of both rules is the same - to give yourself enough time to stop or react to a situation and avoid a collision. For example, this rule can help you avoid hitting a pothole, colliding with debris on the road, driving over black ice or a slippery part of the road, or of course, being involved in an accident with another car, object, animal, or pedestrian.

Leaving a distance of two car lengths is generally recommended to maximize your stopping distance. Although this measurement was once the most favoured method of determining how far you should be from the car in front of you, now, most people prefer the three-second rule, as it better accounts for speed. The reality is that when travelling at higher speeds, such as on highways, a distance of two car lengths’ may not be enough. Meanwhile, the three-second rule is adaptive, making it a more accurate measurement no matter what speed you are travelling at. To make sure that you give yourself at least a three-second gap, follow these steps:

  • Select a marker that you see outside your window, such as a road sign or tree
  • Note when the vehicle ahead passes that marker
  • Count how many seconds it takes for you to pass the same marker

If it takes you less than three seconds to reach that same marker, then you have not left yourself adequate space and you should slow down.

Overall, maintaining a minimum distance of one metre or two car lengths’ is a useful rule of thumb on residential roads when travelling at lower speeds. However, the three-second rule should be applied when travelling at faster speeds.

What is the ideal distance between cars when stopped at an intersection?

When stopped at an intersection, experts recommend leaving enough space on the road ahead to pull out and pass without having to reverse. How much space is this? This usually equals at least one if not two car lengths’ worth of space. The larger the car in front, the more space you should leave, especially if you want to avoid being in the car’s blind spot.

Generally speaking, the reasons to leave space when stopped at an intersection are that it allows you to change lanes and pull out behind the vehicle ahead of you if need be, and it prevents you from crashing into the vehicle ahead of you if you become the victim of rear-end collisions, and it reduces the odds of a collision if the car ahead decides to back up.

In addition, if you are first at the intersection, it can also prevent you from being pushed further into the intersection and into oncoming traffic if the driver behind were to accidentally bump you. Please note that leaving ample space around you when driving is one of the top safe driving tips as doing so can help you avoid being involved in an accident. Contact BrokerLink for more motor vehicle crash data information.


Car safety features: your car may already know when you are driving at a safe following distance

The reality is that car safety features have become extremely advanced in recent years. This means that there are a number of features that can detect and identify where you are situated on the road relative to other cars.

Some features, such as adaptive cruise control, will monitor the positions of other cars on the road and will automatically slow down to give you more space if it detects that traffic is slowing down around you. Many modern passenger vehicles also have sensors in the front and rear to detect and alert you to when there are other cars nearby. These alerts are usually visual or audible, though sometimes they can be tactile, causing a vibration in the driver’s seat or the steering wheel.

In addition, lane keep assist is a feature that will help you avoid colliding with another vehicle when changing lanes. This feature identifies lane markers on the road and will nudge you back into your lane if it detects that you are driving on or have crossed your lane market without turning your signal on.

Ultimately, if you drive a modern car, chances are it comes with safety features that will help you avoid a collision in a number of ways, one of them being to ensure you maintain a safe following distance between your car and the cars around you.

Top safe driving tips

Being a safe driver is easier said than done. If you want to achieve the status of a safe driver and benefit from a good driver discount, start by adopting the following habits:

Don’t drive tired

First, never get behind the wheel if you’re tired. Instead, take a nap or drink a cup of coffee. Only after you’re feeling more energized should you get behind the wheel. If you are already on the road and fatigue sets in, stop and take a break. Other tactics you can try include rolling down the windows, singing or talking to yourself, or drinking coffee while you drive.

Increase your visibility

Whether you’re driving at night or during the day, increasing visibility is key. Keep all windows and mirrors clean this is especially important in the winter when salt and ice buildup is more common. In the winter, make sure to clear all snow and ice off your car before driving off. In the summer, improve visibility by using sun visors and wearing sunglasses to avoid glare.

Obey the speed limit

Obeying the speed limit is a must. Speed limits are not only the law but they prevent accidents. Never drive over the speed limit, as the faster you’re driving, the less time you will have to react, which could increase your odds of a collision.

Remember that under certain circumstances, it’s a good idea to drive below the speed limit. In busy pedestrian areas, construction zones, at night, or in inclement weather, take care to drive slowly.

Look out for wildlife

If you often drive on rural roads or at night, be sure to look out for wildlife. All kinds of nocturnal and crepuscular animals may jump onto the road when you least expect them. From deer and moose to raccoons and squirrels, do your best to remain vigilant.

Turn on your high beams when driving at night and whatever you do, avoid swerving your car suddenly as this can lead to worse outcomes such as passenger vehicles overturning or going off the road.

Keep an emergency kit in your car

Keeping an emergency kit in your car is another great safety tip. Emergency kits can make a huge difference, especially if you find yourself stuck somewhere for hours. Kits should include

a first aid kit, jumper cables, a flashlight, flares or emergency flashers, blankets, a portable battery charger, water, and non-perishable snacks. Further, the kit should be equipped to be effective whether you are stranded on a hot summer day or a cold winter night.

Protect yourself with car insurance

One final tip to keep yourself safe on the road is to purchase a valid car insurance policy in your province. Not only is Ontario car insurance mandatory but auto insurance offers financial security should an incident occur.

Without it, you would have to pay for the cost of repairs or medical attention all on your own. There are various types of auto insurance that a BrokerLink insurance advisor can help you find, such as:

Contact BrokerLink for more information or to receive a free insurance quote.

Get in touch with BrokerLink to find out more safe driving tips

If you want to keep yourself safe on the road, the best way is to adopt defensive driving habits, such as leaving ample distance between you and the cars around you. An insurance broker in Ontario can explain the importance of safe driving, as well as how driving safely can result in a car insurance discount. Contact BrokerLink today to learn more about safe driver discounts and request a free auto insurance quote.

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