Safe Driving--Stopping Safely

The Driving Privilege

From the early teen years, most people are eager to learn to drive. It marks a major milestone on the path to being an adult. (Parents may be somewhat less enthusiastic.)

There are always the usual, obligatory wisecracks, "Oh, no! Little Bobby got his learner's permit; clear the sidewalks!" Jokes aside, driving a car does carry with it a heavy load of responsibility. Most vehicles weigh in at around a ton or a ton and a half, some are upwards of two tons.

That's enough weight, combined with any speed, to do serious damage to property and take lives. We see such stories on the TV news almost nightly. Yet, there seems to be a curious sense of denial present in nearly everyone, of, "That only happens to other people; it won't happen to me." .

Well, I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but it can, and it probably will at some point in your driving career. That's not to say it will be your fault--you could end up simply the victim of someone else's carelessness. That doesn't make it any less traumatic. Then again, if you are the one not paying attention, trying to show off for friends (bad idea!), it could be your fault.

What we all must realize, and what must be hammered home to these eager youths, is that driving is a privilege, and not a right.

Following Distance

Part The First:

For many years (back in the dark ages when I was learning to drive), the way we were taught how to stay a safe distance behind the car in front was to visualize "car lengths." It was stated this way: "For every 10 miles per hour of speed (mph), remain 1 car length away from the car in front of you." So, at 10 mph, you need to leave space for one car; at 30 mph, space for 3 cars, and at 60 mph,(freeway speed), you need space for 6 cars between you.

This formula was based upon mathematical calculations and the laws of physics about how much distance is required to bring a vehicle weighing x pounds and traveling at xx mph to a stop.

The problem with that was, it becomes too difficult to visualize exactly how much distance "a car length" is, (let alone multiple car lengths). Plus, as years went on, cars began to be smaller, so the effective safety margin was also reduced. Maybe smaller, lighter cars can stop in a shorter distance, but the problem remains that there are many different sizes of cars on the road. So, what kind of car-length were you talking about? Your grandpa's old 'land yacht,' nearly 20 feet long? Or a (then new) VW Bug?

Keep from 1 to 4 seconds between vehicles, depending on travel speed
Keep from 1 to 4 seconds between vehicles, depending on travel speed

Part the Second:

Now, there are new guidelines. Instead of trying to visualize car lengths, (which in itself could be called 'distracted driving'), we are given time over distance estimates. The general rule is, allow 1 or 2 seconds distance on local streets, and 3 or 4 seconds distance at freeway speeds.

Here's how it works: you watch the car ahead of you as it passes some landmark, such as a utility pole, street sign or fire hydrant. As soon as its rear bumper has cleared, you begin counting off seconds, until you reach that same point, saying aloud, "one-thousand one; one-thousand two..." etc. (That way of counting takes just about one second of time to say, so it's a good substitute for using a stopwatch, which you sure don't want to do while driving.)

If you count less than the requisite number of seconds for the type of driving; back off--you are following too close. If you are further back--that's fine. There's no need to close the gap--some other driver will be more than happy to cut in front and be the fool to follow too close. Let them get the ticket or have the accident!

Remember this:if you run into someone from the rear, you will be found to be the one at fault, no matter what other circumstances you might think came into play.

How To Stop

I'm sure I can hear everyone saying, "What is she talking about?! You step on the brake--it's like the second thing you learn after where the gas pedal is!"

Well, not so fast. Remember what I said about following distance, and who's at fault if you hit someone in the rear? Yeah. That. Keep it in mind.

Let's begin with how not to stop:

Let's say you are stopped at a red light, and are the second car in line. You pull up right behind the car ahead, and stop. So far, so good. Now, suppose a third car comes up behind you, and the driver is not paying attention. Too late, he spots the red light, and slams on the brakes. But, there was not enough room, and BANG! He's right into the back of your car! Damn! Bummer!

That's not the end of the problem, though. Because you were right up behind the car in front of you, the impact shoves you ahead, despite your foot being firmly on the brake pedal, and you then slam into the car in front. Oops! Now you have three problems:

  1. Your car is totalled--an accordion sandwich
  2. You get a ticket for following too close
  3. A nightmare tangle of insurance and police paperwork and possibly court time

I know exactly what you're thinking now. "Now, hold the phone here! Whaddya mean, 'following too close?!' We weren't even moving--we were stopped at a light--how is that 'following' anyone?"

Yep. But, that's exactly how the law looks at it. You are out in traffic, operating your vehicle, and you failed to allow for such an incident, so 'following' too close. It's true--it happened just that way to my former son-in-law.

Uh oh!  The guy in the top frame stops too close to the car in front!  Look what happens to him when someone behind fails to pay attention!  Guess what?  The damage to the forward car is the fault of the middle fellow!
Uh oh! The guy in the top frame stops too close to the car in front! Look what happens to him when someone behind fails to pay attention! Guess what? The damage to the forward car is the fault of the middle fellow!
Proper stopping distance to avoid an accordion sandwich
Proper stopping distance to avoid an accordion sandwich | Source

Now, we'll continue with how to stop:

Since we're on the Internet, and not on the road, we get a do-over. We'll re-set the scene from above, and help you avoid that ugly incident.

The proper way to stop at a light or stop sign is this: stay back far enough so you can still see the point where the tires of the car in front of you meet the road, after you are stopped. This gives you some wiggle room. If there is an idiot who slams into you from behind, you stand far less of a chance of being shoved into the car ahead of you, and you might (depending on other traffic) have room to steer out of that lane into a clear spot.

Better Not Do It To Me....

If you should find yourself behind me when I am stopped, or approaching a stop, and if I percieve you are coming up too fast, and going to end up right on my rear bumper, I will let you know: I'll flash the heck out of my brake lights in an attempt to say, "Slow down; back off; stop, now!"

We've been hit from behind three times, now, in exactly these same circumstances, and let me tell you, it gets old really quickly! (Luckily, we were stopped an appropriate distance from the car in front of us, and on the worst one, we were the first car in line.)

So don't make me climb out and practice my karate on you for running into me: I won't be in a good mood.

Please remember, then: stop back far enough to allow for the unforeseen, the unexpected, and the undesired event, and you just might avoid having it happen to you. With as many cars and drivers as there are on the roads these days, the sad fact is for most people, it is not a matter of if they will have an accident, but when. As I told my daughter while teaching her to drive a stick shift, the best gift you can give yourself if your number comes up, is being able to know it was not your fault.

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Comments 14 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I am convinced that drivers are worse today than when I was younger...over the past twenty years I have seen a disappearance of many safe driving habits, and a blatant disregard for many rules of the road. Great hub; now hopefully someone will read them and learn.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, billybuc,

You know, I believe you are right, and a lot of the problem stems from pure arrogance: everyone thinking they are the best driver, or worse, the "only" driver with a right to be on the road.

I used to love to drive, be out on the open road, heading out for an adventure. After the experiences we've had, these days driving makes me a bit on edge, instead. That's sad, really. I'm glad you liked the article--thanks for your intelligent comment.


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

Love the diagrams! These are great tips for all drivers, even those who have been driving many many years!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello there, Glimmer Twin Fan,

Glad you liked my sad attempts at art, and I'm happy to know you found the article useful. Many thanks for stopping by and for your input.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Great suggestions, Lizzy, and I do solemnly promise to remember and use them. So help me, AAA.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, drbj,

Thanks, much! I'm pleased you found something you can implement from the article. "So help me, AAA." LOL--clever!


girishpuri profile image

girishpuri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

Great tips for safe driving, thanks, voted useful.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, girishpuri,

Thanks very much for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you found the article useful--thanks, too for the vote!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean

Such wise counsel for the young and the mature alike. Safe driving is a serious topic and you handled it with the care it deserves. Voted Up and Useful.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, MsDora,

I'm glad you liked the article and found it useful. Thanks so much for your nice comment and the votes.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

Great advice! I completely agree with you. I like to have lots and lots of space from the car in front of me, when I am driving and when I am stopped. This does irk people when I am driving though, no matter how fast I am driving, and they tend to want to fill up the space so they pass me to go there and then slow down because they can't go any faster than I was going in the traffic. I didn't know you could get a ticket if you were stopped. How crazy! I am glad the internet allows do-overs. Loved the drawings too!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Millionaire Tips!

I know--isn't that annoying? They pass you in a big hurry, then slow down...whether or not there is slower traffic in front.. Hellloooo???!!! Was it worth it?? What was the big rush?? If you're going to go slower than I was going, what was the point of passing me?? Oh, I get it...the old "ME FIRST" mentality! So important to be at the head of the line, isn't it!

I'm glad you enjoyed the article--and my goofy artwork--thanks so much for your comment! And thank you for being a safe and sane driver!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

How important to teach young drivers; "driving is a privilege, and not a right"...this is a great hub on so many levels. Your humor, the information, and the so appropriate drawings! I can think of a few Drivers' Ed Classes that could use this.

Voted up, useful and interesting.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello there, tillsontitan,

Thanks very much for your comment and the votes. I'm pleased you found the article useful and liked my sarcastic wit. Do feel free to share the link with those Driver's Ed classes... ;-)

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