Many drivers are quick to identify shortcomings in others, but don't often see them in themselves. Many of these shortcomings are exaggerated in congested traffic conditions. Traffic congestion is a cause of frustration for many drivers because they spend more time competing for limited space which adds to the stress. However this principle of "Time & Space" can also be used to provide the solution to reducing stress levels. The whole concept of Hazard Management is to create time and space around your vehicle so that you can control the environment rather than letting it control you.
So how do you go about creating Time & Space? Or indeed is it possible to do this on congested roads?
Something we have to do as drivers in order to be aware of our own shortcomings is to reflect on how we actually drive. It is this self analysis which can provide the solution. For example have you ever had to brake sharply simply because the vehicle in front started to slow down? If you answer yes, you may have been following too closely. But what is too close?
Obviously if you run into the back of the car in front then you were too close. However, following another vehicle too closely is one of those mistakes which often goes unpunished. In other words, every time you are following too closely you do not automatically run into the back of another car. This results in us developing this bad habit because we have got away with it in the past.
The big disadvantage of this practice is a rear end shunt; however there are other downsides too. These can include limiting your vision and forward planning. You are now dependant on the vehicle in front telling you when to slow down or to change position by what they are doing themselves. This increases your stress levels because if the car in front slows slightly, you are immediately forced to respond. The driver in front is now controlling you. You have less time to react should it have been an emergency and in turn the driver behind you also has less time to respond. In effect you are now increasing your own chance of being hit from behind.
Another common misconception is that unless you are very close to the vehicle in front you will miss opportunities to overtake. The reality is often the reverse because you have limited your vision and are therefore unable to see or take advantages of opportunities when they arise. An additional advantage of leaving space is, if another driver who is overtaking you gets into trouble with oncoming traffic, he will have an escape route.
A very practical method for checking if you are the correct distance from the vehicle in front is to use the "Two Second Rule".
When the vehicle in front gets level with a stationary object at the side of the road (such as a road sign) you should start to count how many seconds it takes you to get level with that object. When road conditions are dry, you should take at least two seconds to reach that object, otherwise you are too close. One method of calculating two seconds is to say the phrase "only a fool breaks the two second rule". It takes just two seconds to say this and if you haven't finished saying this before you reach the marker, then you are too close.
On a wet road we should double the gap to four seconds and say this phrase twice.
Having a gap of two seconds between the vehicle in front and ourselves will provide us with sufficient space which will give us time to react. The next time you drive; see what sort of time you are creating for yourself?
Slowing down is also useful in controlling the environment because it gives you more time to collect and process information before making driving decisions. Speed is always relative to conditions and this is why inappropriate speed is a factor in many crashes. A crash is said to occur when two people try to occupy the same space at the same time.
Therefore we wouldn't crash if we had been able to steer around the hazard or stop before reaching it. This validates the "Golden Rule of Driving" which states "you should drive at a speed that you can safely stop within the distance seen to be clear".
Whenever you see another driver make a mistake, be more tolerant because if we are honest with ourselves we have probably made similar mistakes in the past and are likely to do so at some point in the future.
Although we can do very little to control traffic congestion and we are spending more time behind the wheel covering less distance, our objective should still be to create an imaginary bubble of space around the car and look for opportunities to maintain or extend this space whenever possible.
Acknowledgement: The National Safety Council