Keeping a Safe Distance Between Cars on Texas Roadways

following distance

Texas law requires drivers to keep a “safe distance”  when following another vehicle.  But, when is a driver driving too close? In recent years, the two-second rule has given way in some circles to the three-second rule. This means the same rule has been used, but with a bit of buffer to ensure adequate space is left between vehicles. The two (or three) second rule isn’t fixed. In poor weather conditions, when visibility is low or the road may be slippery, the distance should be increased. Under those circumstances, it is recommended that a driver double, or even triple, the count.

What are the Car-Length Rules for Safe Distance Between Cars?

To provide a sense of the actual distance between cars, driver’s education and traffic school instructors often follow up the two or three-second rule with a formula: you should generally keep one car-length between you and the car in front of you for every 10 miles per hour you’re traveling.

That was always a lot of math and measurement to undertake in traffic, but in 2017 there’s a new wrinkle in the mix. “Car length” doesn’t have a clear meaning on roads shared with 16-foot-plus SUVs and luxury cars alongside Smart cars maxing out at less than 9 feet.

What Constitutes a Safe Distance Between Cars?

The Texas Driver Handbook, published by the Texas Department of Public Safety, recommends that the two-second rule be applied at speeds of 30 mph or less, while a four-second rule is appropriate at higher speeds. The handbook also provides stopping distances at various rates of speed, factoring in the average 1.5 seconds it takes a driver to think, react, and apply the brakes. At 50 mph, that distance is 229 feet. At 70 mph, it increases to 387 feet.

Texas law, like the laws of most states, creates a conundrum for drivers. A driver may be ticketed for “following too close,” but the law doesn’t specify exactly what constitutes a safe distance. Since the safe space between cars varies based on speed, weather conditions, and even factors such as how well-maintained brakes and tires are, it is impossible to offer a concrete, easily measurable distance that will reliably be safe.

What is an Assured Clear Distance?

Texas drivers are required by statute to follow the “assured clear distance” rule. This law requires drivers to maintain an assured clear distance such that if the vehicle ahead of them comes to a stop, they can safely bring their vehicle to a stop. However, because this law fails to clearly define the distance required, even the Texas Courts refuse to impose this as a negligence per se (negligence as a matter of law) standard for civil liability purposes.  Thus, drivers are still left with an unclear rule to follow.

Is the Three Second Rule Following Distance Rule Realistic?

If you’re conscious of the safe distance between two vehicles, you probably note that many—perhaps most—of the cars on the road with you are too close together. While it may be natural to go with the flow and follow too close yourself, it’s important to note that “everybody’s doing it” isn’t a legal defense. It also doesn’t make crowding the car in front of you safer. Following too close is even more dangerous if the vehicle in front of you or the vehicle behind you is also following too close.

In short, if you choose to ignore the rule because everyone else does, you’re putting yourself and others at risk of serious injury and property damage. And, you’re putting yourself at risk for a ticket and potential liability for injury to others and damage to other vehicles.

Whether you employ the three-second rule on the road, develop a solid ability to calculate and judge distance, or memorize the appropriate amount of space to give other drivers at various speeds, it is important for everyone that you don’t follow too close.

Injured by a Driver Who Was Driving Too Close?

If you’ve been in an accident because another driver was following too close, you may be entitled to compensation. Depending on the circumstances, damages may include:

  • Reimbursement for medical expenses
  • Compensation for lost income
  • Repair or replacement of your vehicle
  • Compensation for pain and suffering

Talking to a local personal injury attorney can be the first step toward getting back on track after a serious car accident. Call us for a free consultation: (713) 932-0777.

For additional reading see: Who Is At Fault In A Rear-End Car Accident in Texas?