As our roads become increasingly crowded, threats to driver safety increase, too. An ever-growing population and more cars on our roads have been cited as the cause of near-record numbers of fatal crashes in some areas. The more congested our roads become, the more important it is for drivers to learn the secrets of creating and maintaining a space cushion.
Space cushion driving is one of the critical elements of The Smith5Keys®, and it’s a proven way to increase your safety. Creating space around your vehicle might sound like an impossible task when the roads around you are filled with vehicles, but there are techniques you can learn that will help you implement space cushion driving every time you get behind-the-wheel.
Once you know what you need to do, you can apply The Smith5Keys to create more space and make the roads safer for yourself, your passengers and for other drivers on the road.
The Growing Problem of Tailgating
If you spend much time on busy roads, it’s likely that you haven’t seen many drivers implementing the space cushion approach.
In fact, it seems that the busier the road, the less likely drivers are to leave space around their vehicles. That’s more dangerous than you might realize; it can lead to greater frustration, more aggressive driving behavior and even road rage.
Purposely tailgating other drivers is one of the most common forms of aggressive driving, and it’s dangerous for a number of reasons. When you’re tailgating another vehicle, even the smallest changes in their speed can affect you.
Without a space cushion, you don’t have adequate time to react to a slowdown and will have to slam on your brakes to avoid a crash.
When that happens, the driver behind you also has to hit his brakes, as does the driver behind him, and so on. It creates what MIT researchers refer to as a “phantom traffic jam” — traffic flow slows down for no apparent reason, and everyone on the road is delayed as each of the cars must now get back up to speed.
But that’s doing more than wasting time and annoying the drivers around you; it’s also making the roads unsafe. In fact, tailgating is cited as a factor in more than one-third of all crashes.
Of course, it’s not just the vehicles in front of you that you need to pay attention to; those beside you and behind you affect your ability to maneuver as well.
It’s likely that, at some point or another, you’ll find yourself being tailgated, or you’ll notice that drivers in the lane near you are driving aggressively or erratically.
In those instances, you need to know how to create a space cushion to ensure your safety.
What Does Space Cushion Driving Look Like?
Space cushion driving is exactly what it sounds like: It means keeping enough distance between your vehicle and those around you to allow you the time to see, think and react to the changing driving conditions.
For small vehicles in good weather conditions, that means leaving a minimum of four seconds of following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. If conditions are less than perfect, say in the case of rain or snow, then increase your space cushion.
If you’re in heavy traffic and another vehicle decides that your space cushion provides the perfect opportunity for him to cut in front, you may need to momentary adjust your speed. However, this is not the time to use the horn.
Ease off the accelerator and slow down to keep a safe distance between that vehicle and the one you’re driving. Most drivers are not lane jumpers. More commonly, drivers get into their lane out of habit and stay there, only changing when they need to exit or make a turn.
Determining if you’re leaving enough space can be a challenge, so choose a fixed marker (such as a sign or post) that’s ahead of you.
When the back bumper of the vehicle directly in front of you passes that marker, count off the number of seconds until you reach the same spot. That will tell you whether or not you’re leaving a proper space cushion.
It’s important for you to recognize what’s in your space cushion — not just in front, but also behind and beside you. Watch for drivers who are following you too closely, are driving too closely beside you and for distracted drivers who aren’t paying attention to the road.
If you’re in a position where you’re being tailgated or the drivers beside you aren’t driving well, you want to change your position so you’re not locked into an unsafe spot.
If the drivers beside you are behaving erratically, or if they’re simply not paying attention, slow down and let them get past you, then safely change lanes so you won’t be beside them any longer.
In situations where you’re the one being tailgated, you can slow gradually and encourage the driver to pass or look for an opening to your right, put on your turn signal and change lanes whenever it’s safe.
Driving during peak traffic times can present greater challenges when it comes to creating a space cushion, as the roads will be more congested. It may seem more difficult to create space around you, but you can accomplish this goal.
You have a choice. You can sit on the bumper of the vehicle in front of you at their speed, or you can back off the accelerator and go the same speed with the proper following distance.
In heavy traffic, try to maintain a space cushion in front of your vehicle and on at least one side. A couple of seconds on the accelerator, off the accelerator or an occasional lane change is typically all that is required to maintain your space cushion.
What The Smith5Keys Say About Space Cushion Driving
When the Smith5Keys are applied, space cushion driving becomes easier to adopt. Knowing The Smith5Keys will help in all traffic situations, but here’s how they work when it comes to creating space cushions around your vehicle.
No. 1: Aim High In Steering®.
Learning to look farther down the road to see what’s ahead gives you the advantage of planning your next move rather than just reacting to situations around you.
No. 2: Get The Big Picture®.
Staying alert to relevant information, such as what the vehicles around you are doing, gives you the ability to make safe, well-informed decisions.
No. 3: Keep Your Eyes Moving®.
Not only is an active mind less likely to become fatigued, but it is better able to process information. As you use your mirrors to monitor what’s going on around you, you’ll see changes as they happen and be able to adjust your driving plan accordingly.
No. 4: Leave Yourself An Out®.
By surrounding your vehicle with the most space possible, you’re leaving yourself an out to change lanes and change your driving position and the traffic around you shifts. The safest position in traffic is the one with the fewest vehicles around you.
No. 5: Make Sure They See You®.
Make eye contact with other drivers. Make sure they know you’re there, and watch what they do so you can avoid sudden, unplanned movements that could turn into a crash.
Many drivers today are distracted, drowsy or frustrated by being in traffic. Your ability to keep an eye on how they’re reacting to conditions, and to make sure they know you’re there, can help keep everyone safer.
Learn more about the Smith5Keys® with our E-Learning courses that can be accessed right from your desktop, tablet or mobile device! Save lives, reduce motor vehicle crashes and lower company costs by clicking below.
About Driving Space
Driving Space illustrates the importance of why maintaining a proper space cushion is an essential element to collision avoidance. Learners recognize how proper following distance lowers stress behind the wheel without adding additional time to their daily drive.
Driving Space is available in USB & DVD format for $295.00. The Driving Space E-Learning course will be included in the E-Learning and/or Driving Series Bundle. To receive a complementary demo or a volume pricing quote please contact us at (800) 777-7648 or firstname.lastname@example.org.