Ask a Trooper: What is the correct following distance?
Q: What is the correct following distance? Everyone seems to be way too close behind each other. What can I do as a driver having someone too close behind me? Isn't there a rule of so many vehicle lengths for miles per hour to use as a guide?...
Q: What is the correct following distance? Everyone seems to be way too close behind each other. What can I do as a driver having someone too close behind me? Isn’t there a rule of so many vehicle lengths for miles per hour to use as a guide?
A: The only law regarding following distance pertains to vehicles pulling trailers. This includes trucks as well as semi-truck tractors with trailers. They must maintain a minimum distance of 500 feet.
While state law does not require a specific distance for vehicles not pulling trailers, it does say that you shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the conditions of the highway.
We recommend what’s called the three-second-plus following distance rule. Watch the vehicle in front of you. When that vehicle gets past an object such as a sign, pole, bridge, etc., then count off three seconds. You should not arrive at that spot sooner than your count to three. If you do, then you are following too close! Also, you must add one second for every hazard that exists. Hazards include but are not limited to heavy traffic, rain, snow, fog, driving into the sun, etc. In some cases you might have to allow six, seven seconds or even more to be safe because of existing hazards.
Learn how to recognize any kind of hazard while you are driving out there, and practice the three-second-plus following rule. If everyone were to follow this simple rule, many crashes that cause serious injuries and or death could be prevented.
While the State Patrol fields many complaints of trucks following too close, crash facts show a much larger number of cars and pickup trucks being involved in fatal rear-end crashes than semitrailers.
If someone is following you too closely, pull over and let them pass. Tapping your brake lights may not always be a safe option, but in certain cases might help temporarily. Check your mirrors every three to five seconds so you know what is going around you. While we cannot control the vehicles around us, we can control our own driving habits.
Sgt. Neil Dickenson is a public information officer with the Minnesota State Patrol.