Maintaining a Safe Following Distance on the Highway: The 3-5 Second Rule

Do you know what a following interval is and how to determine it? If not, you’re in luck ’cause we’re about to drop some following interval knowledge and driving tips.

A following interval (or following distance) is the distance between you and the car in front of you. This defensive driving technique is useful for maintaining a safe following distance when you’re driving behind other cars and for avoiding tailgating. People used to determine proper following distance using the number of car lengths between them as a reference. Now, the best way to make sure you’re not following others too closely is to use the second rule.

Basically all you do is count the seconds between when the car ahead of you passes something stationary (a road sign, a tree, the guy selling watermelons on the side of the road) and when you pass it. You want to try and hit that second following interval sweet spot of 3 – 5 seconds. If it takes you 3-5 seconds to pass an object after the car ahead of you has passed it, you’re at a safe following distance. You’ll need more space the faster you’re driving, so keep that in mind. If you follow any closer than 3 seconds, you’ll be tailgating the person in front of you, like a big jerk.

Not this kind of tailgating

You also want to increase your following interval to more than 3 seconds if the weather is bad. In bad weather (rain, snow, etc.), your tires lose traction with the road, so you need to give yourself more distance to stop. Increase the duration of time between passing objects to 5 or 6 seconds so you can feel more confident in your ability to hit the brakes in time. Don’t forget, only jerks are tailgaters. Give the person in front of you plenty of space. Give yourself plenty of space. Space, man.

Your driving skills are outta this world.

Once you pass your permit test and start traffic school, you can practice mastering perfect distance following in your driving lessons. Use your best judgement and remember the distance rules. If you’re nervous you might not be able to stop abruptly without hitting the person in front of you- back. it. up. 

Make sure to check out the rest of our safe driving videos for more tips to keep you in control on the road!