What’s a Safe Following Distance When Driving?

Variable Following Distance

Here’s a tip you can share with your teen, courtesy of Dr. Charles McDaniel. Dr. McDaniel is the author of Parents Deserve a Brake, a best-selling CD program that helps parents teach their teens to become safe drivers. Dr. McDaniel holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum Development-Highway Traffic Safety and has led many traffic safety initiatives across the country over several decades. You can read more about him here.

For years, a safe following distance behind the vehicle in front of you was based on one car length (20 feet) for each 10 mph you were traveling. In the late 1960s, this was changed to the two-second rule. The two-second rule is adequate for speeds up to 35 mph. Today, many driving programs and some states recommend a three-second following distance. We recommend a Variable Following Distance, as follows:

  • Two-second following distance, 0-35 mph

  • Three-second following distance, 36-60 mph

  • Four-second following distance, 61+ mph

If driving conditions involve fog, snow or ice, you should increase your following distance by one or more seconds, depending on the severity of the weather. If you are following a motorcycle, extend your following distance by at least one additional second.

How do you gauge the distance? Just pick a landmark on the road ahead. It could be a utility pole, a shadow, a bridge or even a mark on the road. Count one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, etc. to see how long it takes you to reach the landmark. Then adjust your speed to leave the appropriate distance between you and the vehicle ahead. This is especially easy to do on freeways and other limited access highways where speeds are higher.

2 Responses to “What’s a Safe Following Distance When Driving?”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I do not know where this information comes from but these times are on the short side. The rule ought to read 4 seconds up to 40 miles an hour, and 1 additional second for every 10 additional miles an hour. At 60 mph your car is traveling 88 feet per second, there ought be a football field and a half between you and the car in front of you, Unless you think trunk lid shorts are a fashion statement.

  2. mary k Says:

    Three-second following distance, 36-60 mph
    A few great schools I’ve used for …
    Online Traffic School, Internet Defensive Driving School & Driver Education Improvement.


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