Traffic Tip Tuesday: Following too closely

This week we are discussing a topic that is the cause of many traffic collisions. It is that of following too closely. Let’s first look at the state statute and the city ordinance to see what the laws say regarding this matter. The first is the state statute on following too close (66-7-318) and the second is the city ordinance (25-3-2).

New Mexico State Statute 66-7-318. Following too closely.

A. The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.

B. The driver of any motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle when traveling upon a roadway outside of a business or residence district shall not follow another motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle within three hundred feet, except that this shall not prevent a motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle from overtaking and passing by any like vehicle or other vehicle.

C. Motor vehicles being driven upon any roadway outside of a business or residence district in a caravan or motorcade whether or not towing other vehicles shall not follow the preceding vehicle closer than three hundred feet. This provision shall not apply to funeral processions, nor shall it apply within or outside of a business or residence district to motor vehicle escort vehicles of a motor vehicle escort service, which may, if necessary to maintain the continuity of the escorted unit or units, precede or follow at a distance closer than three hundred feet to the escorted unit or units.

Farmington City Ordinance 25-3-2. Following too closely. 

A. In its entirety, NMSA, 1978 § 66-7-318, incorporated via Farmington City Code § 25-1-1, is the standard within the limits of the city.

B. The testimony of an officer who has personally observed an alleged violator’s driving, as to the reasonableness, prudence and due regard of the alleged violator’s driving shall be legally sufficient proof of violation of this section.

C. Alternatively, proof that the alleged violator followed the preceding vehicle within a time of two seconds or less, or at a distance which can be traveled within two seconds or less, given the posted speed limit for the roadway, shall be legally sufficient proof of violation of this section.

Estimating distance between vehicles can be difficult, so I would like to focus on the second distance as mentioned in the city ordinance. This is often referred to as the two-second rule and I will explain how it works.

When the back of the vehicle in front of you passes a fixed object, you start to count, one thousand one, one thousand two, etc. If the front of your vehicle reaches that object before you finish counting “one thousand two,” then you are too close and need to increase your following distance. You can certainly be more than two seconds away from the vehicle in front of you, but no less than two full seconds. Below is a diagram illustrating how it works.

two-second Rule

As you can see in the diagram, after the back of the red car passes the light pole, the driver of the blue car would start to count. If the front of the blue car reaches the light pole before two full seconds, then the blue car is too close. If there is more than two seconds between the vehicles, then the blue car is at a good distance. It is important to note that while driving, you should not use any kind of timing device (cell phone or stopwatch) as that would be distracting and dangerous. Simply counting will work just fine.

Depending on who you talk to about this, some people may have been taught three seconds as a safe following distance. The two second rule is the minimum standard as outlined in the city ordinance. If you have been taught and feel more comfortable following the three-second rule, there is nothing wrong with that, as it will only give you more time and distance to react if an issue does arise.

There are many factors that may make you consider increasing the following distance. I will attempt to list and briefly describe a few of them. However, this list is not meant to include every possible situation where the following distance should be increased. With time and experience, drivers will become better able to judge those times and instances when distance should be increased.

Some factors where you may want to consider increasing your following distance.

Weather Conditions/ Road Conditions. If it is snowing, raining, or there is low visibility from fog, dust, or anything else, it would be a good idea to increase the distance. In these conditions there may not be as much traction on the roadway making it more difficult to stop in an emergency situation. You may also want to increase the following distance on dirt roads due to the limited traction and to reduce the chance of a rock hitting your vehicle or windshield.

Type of vehicle you are following. This is especially true if you are following a motorcycle. As the weather continues to warm up, there will be more and more motorcycles on the road. Motorcycles can stop a lot faster and in a shorter distance than most vehicles, so increasing following distance behind a motorcycle is a good idea.

Type of vehicle you are driving, towing, and/or hauling. The heavier your vehicle, the more time it will take you to stop your vehicle. That also includes the weight of anything you are hauling or towing. So if you are driving a large vehicle, such as a motorhome, or towing a heavy load such as a camper trailer, you need to be sure to increase your following distance.

Condition of your vehicle. Only you know the condition of your vehicle. This includes the condition of your brakes, tire tread, and tire pressure. If any of those are not as they should be, you should get it fixed as soon as possible. But in the meantime, be sure to increase your following distance.

Speed. As you increase in speed, you should also increase your distance from the vehicle in front of you. Two seconds may be a good distance around town, but once you start getting up to highway speeds, you should increase the time to at least three seconds.

A person may argue that if you leave too large a gap between you and the vehicle in front of you, then someone is going to change lanes in front of you. To that I would say, is okay. Let the other vehicle cut in and now readjust your distance to that vehicle. In the overall picture, it may delay you about two minutes to your overall destination, but you will be a lot safer on the roadway. And if you were to be in a collision, that will probably set you back at least 20 minutes, so a few minutes slower really is not all that bad.

No matter if you are a new driver or a seasoned driver with years of experience, I would encourage everyone to test out the two second rule the next time you are out driving. I think most people will find that on a regular basis, they are within two seconds from the vehicle ahead of them. If you aren’t, just make the necessary adjustments in your driving habits. By doing this, you will decrease the chances of rear ending the vehicle in front of you.

Jensen, JonathanOfficer Jensen has been a law enforcement officer with the Farmington Police Department for almost six years. He has been with FPD’s Traffic Division since 2013. Officer Jensen is a certified child passenger safety technician and a traffic collision reconstructionist.