Distracted driving and following too closely

Drivers tailgate – or, more formally, follow too closely – for many reasons. Drivers with aggressive or angry personalities, tight schedules or simply the desire to pass can be tailgaters. However, most drivers have little insight into the danger they create by following too closely.

Worse yet are the increasing possibilities for driver distractions. These can be in the form of hand-held electronic devices, eating and drinking (not necessarily alcohol) while driving, changing the radio or CD player, or just looking at interesting things along your route of travel.

Also, seldom considered is the myriad of vehicle controls and gauges. Just a quick perusal of my own 2011 Subaru Outback revealed the following: On the steering column alone, there are controls for the lights (parking, low and high beams, fog, turn signals), wipers, cruise control, radio/CD controls for advancing and volume, and of course the horn, to name a few.

Dash controls for the radio/CD/satellite systems include buttons for AM, FM, CD, satellite, scan, seek, volume, stations and load/unload CDs. Climate controls include heating, cooling and temperature controls, defrosting, rear window heater, outside mirror heat, fan speed controls, direct air on feet, face, windshield or combination of each, and outside versus inside air.

Gauges monitor speed, RPMs, fuel, fuel efficiency, miles, engine temperature and oil pressure, to name a few. Then there are buttons to lock/unlock the doors, raise/lower windows, adjust outside mirrors, heated seats, setting the clock, hazard lights, moon roof, reading lights, etc. Talk about possible distractions!

Vehicle and Traffic Law paragraph 1129 requires drivers to not follow another vehicle more closely than is “reasonable and prudent,” having due regard for the speed of such vehicles, the amount of traffic and the condition of the highway.

So what’s reasonable and prudent? The answer is “three seconds.” Traffic experts recommend that you keep at least three seconds between you and the car in front. When you see the vehicle in front of you pass a stationary object, such as a utility pole or sign, count to three seconds, and if you arrive at the same object before you get to three seconds, you are too close – drop back. Three seconds is the recommended spacing under good driving conditions. When conditions deteriorate because of weather, darkness, fatigue, etc., more spacing is required.

An increasingly large percent of all automobile crashes involve following too closely. Nine times out of 10, a rear-end collision can be attributed to driver inattention or some form of driver distraction. Since there is no law against driver distraction, until it results in a crash, the violation is likely to be following too closely.

Should you receive a ticket for this violation, you may be fined up to $150 plus a mandatory surcharge of $88 to $93, and you could be jailed for up to 15 days for the first offense. You also get four points against your license.

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the website of the Traffic Safety Board at www.franklincony.org.