Ask the Motor Cop | If you can read that bumper sticker with the tiny print, you’re too close


Question: Jerry, I see so often people driving way too closely and I know that this is a real safety problem. I see it all the time. Can you maybe address this issue and shed some light on this and give me your thoughts.  

— Bob 

Answer: Thanks, Bob, for your concern. Working so long in traffic enforcement, I have seen firsthand the numerous traffic collisions caused by the vehicle behind. Accidents don’t just happen, they are caused. Many drivers follow way too closely and place others at risk.  

Following too closely, also known as tailgating, is a form of road rage. It can distress drivers. Some drivers may be able to handle the stress caused by tailgating. However, others may perform considerably worse under duress, which could directly lead to an accident.   

California Vehicle Code 21703: “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.”  

The two-second rule will place your vehicle at a minimum safe distance behind the vehicle ahead. How does that work? Select an object ahead and when the vehicle ahead reaches that object, after two seconds you should then be at that point and not before.    

Some say that a three-second delay is best. Apply the three-second rule and that will really place yourself at a safe following distance. However, I feel that maintaining two seconds’ worth of space will give you the most amount of room to react without disrupting the flow of traffic.  

Here is a good suggestion, according to the current California Drivers Handbook: “A tailgater is behind you. Maintain your course and speed. Then, when safe to do so, merge right to change into another lane and allow the tailgater to pass.”   

I do not suggest slowing down and hoping that the tailgater will then pass. This could be asking for additional trouble.   

Things to consider:   

A vehicle traveling at 40 mph is moving almost 60 feet per second. The average reaction time (before the driver even touches their brake) is three-quarters of a second. So, before the brake is even applied, that vehicle will travel approximately 44 feet with a total stopping distance of approximately 120 feet.  

Thanks, Bob. By addressing your concern, hopefully others will be better advised of the law and maybe adjust their own driving habits.  

Drive carefully and maintain a safe distance.                  

Jerry Schlund, a Santa Clarita Valley resident, is a retired Los Angeles Police Department motor officer with over 24 years riding. He was a certified radar instructor — both laser and doppler — and was instrumental in California vehicle code amendments. He was a traffic school instructor for 25 years. Have a question for the motor cop? Send your questions to [email protected] 

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