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What Is the Three Second Rule When Driving

We’ve all seen the erratic drivers who weave in and out of traffic or suddenly zip into the right lane to exit the interstate. We’ve seen irresponsible behavior like texting while driving or driving while intoxicated, even if these actions are illegal and extremely dangerous.

Perhaps a driving habit we haven’t considered is the proper following distance. Tailgating, or following too closely behind the driver in front of you, is as reckless as weaving in and out of traffic.

Let’s examine the three-second rule and why you should follow this safe driving behavior!

What Is the Three Second Rule?

The “Three Second Rule” is not a traffic law; it’s a tip for safe driving. This rule helps drivers maintain a safe following distance. By leaving three seconds of space between your vehicle and the one in front of you, you’re reducing your risk of encountering a car accident.

However, this rule is flexible depending on your speed.

Why Does the Three Second Rule Prevent Crashes?

One of the most common car accidents is when a driver rear-ends the vehicle in front of them. Unfortunately, this results from texting, tailgating, and other irresponsible driving habits. However, people could prevent many of these crashes by following the three-second rule.

When drivers follow too closely behind other cars, the reaction time to brake is much shorter. For example, if you’re on the tail of the vehicle in front of you, you might have half a second to slam on your brakes if that vehicle immediately stops.

When you give yourself three seconds between you and the next car, you don’t have to suddenly slam on your brakes if that vehicle slows down or stops. You have three seconds of reaction time. This prevents rear-end collisions.

Pro Tip: Stay safe while driving by following these 10 Unwritten Rules for Highway Driving.

Woman driving following the three second rule
Maintain a safe following distance while driving to avoid collisions.

How to Follow the Three Second Rule

Following the three-second rule is straightforward. When trailing another vehicle, watch as it passes a landmark like a speed limit sign or mile marker. If you’re traveling on backcountry roads, it could even be a tree or mailbox. After that car passes the landmark, count the seconds it takes for you to reach that same landmark.

If your vehicle takes at least three seconds to reach the sign or tree, you’re at a safe distance behind the car in front of you. You’ll have ample time to slow down or stop if the driver in front slams on his brakes to avoid hitting a deer or making a sharp turn.

How Does Speed Affect the Three Second Rule?

However, the three-second rule is flexible depending on your speed. If you’re driving through a downtown urban street, you don’t want to follow three seconds behind the car in front of you. You’ll hear honking horns and see gestures from other drivers as they show their irritation. Such slow speeds don’t require a three-second rule to avoid rear-end collisions. Just pay attention and don’t follow too closely.

On the other hand, driving at higher speeds also requires modifying the three-second rule. When driving above 30 MPH, it’s best to extend your following distance. Three seconds is only safe for lower speeds. For example, if you’re moving at 50 MPH, you may want five seconds of space between you and the other driver.

If you’re driving 70 MPH, having a seven-second gap will help reduce rear-end collisions. Adding a second per every 10 MPH is a good rule to allow yourself time to slow down. Remember, the faster a vehicle moves, the more time and space you need to slow or stop.

Man looking through windshield driving
As your speed increases, keep a wider distance between yourself and other drivers.

Does the Three Second Rule Apply to RVs?

RVs need even more time to slow down than standard vehicles. This is why experts highly recommend RV drivers maintain speeds around 60 MPH on the interstate. The faster the RV goes, the more time it needs to slow down.

However, the greater risk comes with, the heavier load. Class A motorhomes weighing 30,000 pounds can’t stop on a dime. Increasing the space between you and the vehicle in front of you is critical for safe driving.

Five seconds may be enough time for a 4,000-pound sedan to slow down at the sight of red tail lights, but it won’t be enough time for a 15,000-pound fifth wheel. For this reason, increasing the space between you and the next vehicle when driving or towing an RV is a safe driving habit.

Am I At Fault If I Rear-End Another Driver?

After a car crash, the drivers or the police at the scene must determine fault for the accident. You must submit insurance claims correctly. In rear-end collisions, the trailing driver is usually at fault and responsible for the damages to the front vehicle. Even if the leading driver slams their brakes, traffic laws require drivers to leave enough room to prevent such accidents.

Pro Tip: Do you need to repent of any of these 7 Deadly Sins of Interstate Driving?

Stay Safe and Stay Three Seconds Behind the Nearest Driver

The next time you’re heading out to work or racking up the miles on a road trip, remember to maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you. This not only keeps you safe, but it also protects other drivers. Especially on the interstate, when one car rear-ends another car, it’s pretty easy for a multi-car pile-up to occur. Don’t make the nightly news for being the driver who didn’t provide a sufficient following distance.

Have you ever heard of the three-second rule? Is this a safe driving habit you employ? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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