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Safe following distances

You must drive a safe distance behind a vehicle travelling in front of you. Following another vehicle too closely is known as tailgating. If you tailgate you may not be able to safely stop in time to avoid a collision.

Safe following distances vary depending on:

What is a safe following distance?

In most cases, a safe following distance is much longer than a car length.

You should drive at least 2 seconds behind the vehicle in front during ideal conditions.

Add 1 second extra for each 3m of trailer length—when driving a vehicle towing a trailer or caravan.

Remember to also:

  • double your following distance in poor conditions
  • increase following distances if you're driving a heavy vehicle.

Time-lapse method

One car passes a landmark, with another car following behind at a safe distance

Cars using the time-lapse method

You can use the time-lapse method to keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front.

  1. Pick a mark on the road or an object close to the left-hand side of the road, such as a power or light pole.
  2. When the rear of the vehicle ahead passes the object, count ‘1 thousand 1, 1 thousand 2’ (this takes about 2 seconds).
  3. If the front of your vehicle passes the object before you finish counting, you are too close, so drop back.

Video of safe following distances

Watch the video to get a better understanding of safe following distances.

You may think leaving one car length between you and the car in front of you is safe.

But, that's not always the case.

Safe following distances vary according to traffic speed and weather conditions and according to the type of vehicle you're driving.

In good conditions, you should allow 2 seconds between your car and the vehicle in front of you.

Here's an easy way to work that out.

Pick a mark on the road or an object close to the left hand side of the road, such as a power pole.

When the rear of the vehicle in front of you passes that object, count 'one thousand one, one thousand two'.

If the front of your car passes the object before you've finished counting, drop back, you're following too closely.

Now if you're towing a trailer or caravan, you'll need to allow 2 seconds, plus an extra second for every 3 metres of trailer.

If you're driving a heavy vehicle, double the distance and allow at least 4 seconds following distance.

If conditions are poor, also allow 4 seconds between you and the car in front, more if you are driving a heavy vehicle.

Rear-end collisions are the most common types of crashes, so play safe and keep your distance.