Following Distance for Trucks & Fleets - Safety Tips
When we talk about tailgating, we don’t mean the type that takes place in a parking lot and usually involves friends, burgers, and an exciting game. Tailgating is a form of aggressive driving that nearly everyone has experienced, whether you were the one tailgating or watching an all-too-close car in your rearview mirror. There are a wide variety of solutions to help your drivers address this behavior and keep your fleet and everyone else on the road safe.
What is tailgating?
Tailgating is when a driver follows another vehicle very closely, often at a distance that would not allow proper reaction time to avoid a collision should the front driver brake suddenly. Accidents from tailgating can happen at slow speeds, too – it’s not just tailgating on highways that is dangerous.
Why tailgating is a risky behavior
Although many drivers may feel that they have total control over their vehicle and can tailgate another vehicle “safely,” this is an illusion of control. Vehicles require much more distance to safely stop than most drivers realize and the necessary distance increases with speed and weight of the vehicle, i.e. the larger the vehicle, the more space in front of you is needed.
Tailgating is a risky behavior because it can lead to many kinds of accidents: rear-ending another vehicle, being the vehicle that is rear-ended, creating a pile-up on the highway, or even colliding with a vehicle in a neighboring lane. According to the National Safety Council (NSC) and All Nation Insurance, one of the most common driving errors that causes collisions is tailgating.
Other common errors that cause collisions include distracted driving: texting, talking on a cellphone, or removing your eyes from the road for any reason. If a driver is both following a vehicle too closely and distracted, that’s a recipe for a collision. When a driver is following too close, it can limit their response time to correct other risky behaviors.
Related: Solutions to Texting and Driving
Unsafe following distance vs. critical distance
An unsafe following distance is when there is too little room between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead.
When all the points below are present, a driver is considered to be following too close*:
- The vehicle is traveling at or above 25 mph
- The brakes have not been applied brakes for at least 4 seconds
- The driver is approximately 1.5 seconds behind the vehicle ahead and is not increasing that distance.
*Note that this distance increases with larger, heavier vehicles.
Critical distance is when there may be an extremely high risk of collision due to operating under close proximity with another vehicle. This happens when the first two indicators above are present, and the driver is approximately 0.6 seconds from the vehicle ahead.
When drivers don’t adhere to following distance guidelines, they are operating under critical distance circumstances, which means an accident is highly likely should a quick stop occur.
How drivers can avoid tailgating
There are easy ways for drivers to avoid critical distance tailgating and for you to keep your drivers safer on the roads.
While roadways are generally safe for drivers, there are serious risks to prepare for: according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 37,133 people were killed in motor vehicle collisions on U.S. roads in 2017. And the NSC confirms that more than 90 percent of collisions are caused by human error. These facts are why it’s important to practice strong defensive driving. Drivers with this awareness take proactive steps to reduce risk on the road. Defensive driving can include checking mirrors often, monitoring blind spots, keeping track of speed changes, and staying aware of other drivers on the road who exhibit risky behaviors.
Many of us know from personal experience how often aggression and tailgating go hand-in-hand. And driving while angry increases the risk of crashing by 10 times. Training drivers to mitigate their emotional reactions and stay calm means they can avoid aggression and be better equipped to navigate away from other aggressive drivers on the road.
Proactively maintain a safe following distance
Creating a safe following distance between drivers is the easiest way to avoid tailgating-related collisions. Standard advice for a personal vehicle is to put three seconds of space between itself and all other surrounding vehicles. If a driver is tailgating another vehicle then there is, at best, one second of distance. This makes for an incredibly dangerous driving situation.
The necessary following distance for trucks increases when discussing heavier commercial vehicles. A fully-loaded tractor-trailer weighing 80,000 pounds traveling in ideal conditions (no rain, snow, or water on the roads) at 65 mph needs 525 feet to come to a stop. That’s almost the length of two football fields. Even when drivers are operating below 40 mph, they still need at least one second for every 10 feet of vehicle. For a standard tractor-trailer, this means 4 seconds between them and the vehicle ahead to meet a safe following distance. That time increases with speed and slippery road conditions from adverse weather. When bad weather is present, drivers should double the following distance.
Use technology to identify when a driver is following too close
Technology can help detect when a driver is a following too close. Lytx’s system, for example, can detect when a driver is following too close and either alert the driver, alert the fleet manager, or capture video at the time of the incident. This helps take the guesswork out of understanding how safe drivers actually are by bringing common risky behaviors to light. Drivers can use this information to correct and adapt quickly, too, keeping everyone safer.
Fleets can configure the technology based on how they want to address risky driving. The DriveCam can alert the driver when they are following too close, or entering critical distance, so they can self-correct. Another option is to capture video when a driver is following too close. This configuration allows drivers and fleet managers to discuss solutions together. This could mean addressing necessary behavior adaptations to maintain proper following distance for trucks before a collision happens out on the road.
How technology can help detect when a vehicle is following too closely
Lytx solutions leverage the DriveCam® device to help fleets improve safety by watching for risky behaviors on the road and in the vehicle. The device’s advanced machine vision (MV) and artificial intelligence (AI) analyze data of the driver and nearby vehicles to detect issues including tailgating. MV+AI technology identifies both safe following distances and critical distances. It also analyzes data to detect the frequency of risky driving behaviors, making it easier to address and correct driver behaviors directly and before collisions happen.
How MV+AI triggers work
Lytx’s MV+AI technology analyzes and assesses data constantly. When it identifies a risky behavior, the technology triggers the DriveCam device, which then flags the event for the driver and/or fleet manager–an option that is fully customizable. Take tailgating as the example: when a driver is following another vehicle the camera lens uses machine vision to recognize an object (ie the vehicle in front of you) and then the AI uses that information, along with other data such as speed, to determine if risk is present. If the driver maintains a critical distance and doesn’t increase their following distance, the DriveCam device will flag the event as risky.
With proper configuration, the DriveCam device can immediately alert the driver, so they know to increase their distance.
Tailgating is a risky behavior that every fleet must address. See how Lytx’s MV+AI technology can help drivers identify when they are following too closely and make adjustments to keep your company’s fleet safer on the roads. Schedule a demo.