How To Master Keeping A Safe Distance

Last Updated: 10/04/2021

Many accidents on the UK roads each year are caused by who drivers not leaving enough distance between themselves and the car in front.

Failing to keep a safe distance between yourself and vehicles that you’re driving behind can be extremely dangerous.

In the event of the vehicle in front suddenly having to slow down or stop, you will almost certainly end up colliding with it.

Depending on your speed, this can potentially cause significant injury to yourself and your passengers, not to mention damage to both vehicles.

On motorways or other fast roads, for example a dual carriage, failing to keep a safe distance can result in a ‘pile-up’.

This happens when ample stopping distances have not been observed by vehicles and so a sudden stop or slowing down leads to multiple cars colliding in to the back of each other.

These can also be dangerous, potentially fatal, and underlines the importance of mastering how to keep a safe distance.

Thankfully, guidance is freely available about what constitutes a safe stopping distance.

Unsurprisingly, your driving test examiner will be observing the distance you leave between yourselves and other vehicles during your test, so it’s something you need to master and get right very early on.

There are three crucial factors that will all impact what is considered to be a safe stopping distance.

They are:

Weather:

The guidelines on what constitutes a safe distance can change depending on weather.

In heavy rain, distances are increased significantly due to the likelihood of less grip and slower stopping speeds.

The same with ice as well – icy conditions will mean the safe distance is much greater than when the roads are clear.

Visibility:

Visibility plays a big part in all parts of driving and leaving a safe distance between vehicles is also important.

In heavy fog, for example, you will be expected to leave much more room between yourself and the vehicle that is in front of you.

Speed: 

Finally, speed is obviously a contributing factor.

The faster a vehicle is moving, the longer it will take to stop.

Therefore, a safe stopping distance will be much greater on a motorway than a 30mph road in a town, for example.

It’s also worth noting that your own physical condition will play a part in what is a safe distance as well.

The older you are, the more likely your reactions will be slower, so you’ll need to leave additional space to the vehicle in front of you.

Similarly, if you suffer with poor eye sight or anything physical trait that could slow down or impede how you see the road ahead of you, then this will also mean that you should leave more room between yourself and the vehicle ahead.

What You Will Learn

In this guide on how to master keeping a safe distance, we will explain to you what the term actually means and what factors are most likely to influence it.

The guide is going to cover what some of the recommended safe distances are from the Highway Code while also giving you some practical methods of measuring this out while you’re behind the wheel driving.

As ever, our guide will cover the following sections:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

Unlike many manoeuvres which we have written guides for, our step-by-step guide to mastering a safe distance between vehicle can vary quite a lot depending on you, the road and the conditions.

You’ll be required to know what the recommended stopping distances are from the Highway Code (see ‘Further Resources’ below) but you’re also going to need to know how those external factors we touched on in the introduction will impact your safe distance.

However, there is one hard and fast rule that you can follow which will mean you’re always using a safe distance.

That is the ‘two second rule’.

This works because whatever speed you’re travelling at, leaving two seconds between yourself and the car in front will impact the size of the gap.

The quicker you’re driving, the bigger than gap between vehicles would have to be to stretch two seconds.

Here’s the step-by-step guide of how to adhere to the two second rule of leaving a safe distance.

  • Pick out a fixed point on the road ahead. This could be a signpost, a lamppost or even a crack in the road.
  • Once the vehicle in front passes this point, begin counting. You should be able to reach two seconds before you reach that same point.
  • If you can’t, then slow down a little until the gap stretches out further and repeat the process.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

So much of what constitutes a safe distance between vehicles comes down to the driver’s common sense and awareness.

If you are not aware of the gap you have left or you ignore the conditions around you (weather, heavy traffic, etc), then accidents can easily happen.

Here are a few hints and tips to help you.

Don’t Get Distracted:

Remove any distractions when you are driving.

Often one of the first thing that drivers do when they are distracted is they ignore things such as speed and space between vehicles.

Before you know it, you’ll be in trouble.

You must always be concentrating and aware of what is happening around you.

Counting Accurately:

Counting accurately can be tricky.

The best way of counting to two seconds is to say the following; “one-one-thousand-one, two-one-thousand-two”.

Adding these extra words in make all of the difference in making sure your counting is accurate.

Apply The Three Second Rule:

Two seconds is often considered the absolute minimum time for a safe stopping distance.

Therefore, play it safe and opt for three seconds.

Double Up:

If it’s raining, you should double the count/distance.

Turn that three second count in to a six second count, ensuring the gap between yourself and the vehicle in front is plenty big enough to allow you to stop safely should you need to.

Motorway Chevrons:

On some motorways and roads, you will see chevron markers painted on the road with advice to leave three chevrons gap between vehicles.

This is a great rule of thumb.

Pay attention to them because they can also help you get used to leaving ample room on all roads as you become familiar with how big that gap looks in the real world.

Useful Information

The Highway Code will become your best friend when you’re learning to drive and you should keep it close by even once you have passed your test.

It has some great information in it on recommended safe stopping distances at different speeds and in different weathers.

So, while this guide is a great starting point and will make sure you’re generally leaving enough room, by being familiar with the advice in the Highway Code as well, you’ll feel properly armed to drive safely at a safe distance.

Final Thoughts

Without a shadow of doubt, mastering a safe distance is largely down to the common sense and competence of you the driver.

Leave an absolute minimum of a two second gap, ideally aim for three seconds which is doubled in wet weather.

It’s really useful to get in to the routine of counting the gap while you’re driving – it will become a habit.

Further Resources