AA Legal Eagle: The Two-Second Rule

25 March 2013: 

The Minister of Transport, Ben Martins, in December 2012 cited poor following distances as a major reason for the high number of road accidents each year. There are however, differing opinions as to what constitutes a ‘safe following distance’ and how effective it really is on reducing road accidents. The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) provides its input on the rules and general guidelines for following distances below.

“Despite the fact that an inadequate following distance is listed as one of the major causes of road accidents, there is no legal precedent outlining what an adequate following distance is,” says  the Automobile Association of South Africa. “Without any clear legal guidance, motorists only have recommendations to rely upon.”

While the argument about potentially reducing speed limits rages, the AA believes that the focus should instead be on correct following distances. The critical question to ask yourself when driving is ‘If there is an issue with the driver in front, do you have enough time to stop?’ Without an adequate following distance you will not be able to adjust to an emergency situation and react accordingly. Your reaction to a situation depends on four key elements:

  • Your personal perception time;
  • Your personal reaction time;
  • Your vehicle reaction time; and
  • Your vehicle braking capability (dependent on the make and model of your vehicle).
“When the driving conditions are ideal, the rule of thumb is to keep a two-second following distance. Whilst this should be used as the bare minimum standard; the AA recommends that a six-second following distance is much safer,” says the AASA. “The two-second rule is easy to measure; note a physical landmark and watch the car in front of you pass it. Count off ‘1,001 and 1,002’ before you pass that same point. If it’s less than two-seconds, ease off the accelerator to create more space.”
When driving at night or in the rain, it is essential that even the six-second rule is extended. “Always drive according to the conditions and remember that if the road is wet you will need more than six seconds to come to a stop,” says the AASA.
Don’t get agitated when someone pulls into the space you have created for safety’s sake. Creating space between yourself and the car ahead provides you with alternative options to avoid a collision. You cannot take responsibility for other drivers but by ensuring there is the correct following distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you, may mean the difference between reaching your destination a few minutes later, or not arriving at all.

Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)
011 799 1126

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