Teach Your Teen to Drive Lesson 3: Following in Traffic

It’s important to emphasize to your new driver that a safe following distance (how far you are behind the vehicle in front of you) is key to preventing a collision — even more so than quick reactions and good brakes.

Follow our weekly summer series on teaching your teen how to drive — sharing these important driving tips in small doses may help you and your teen cover more ground.

What’s a Safe Following Distance?

Your teen may find that the two-second rule will help them in maintaining a safe following distance. This means, when following a vehicle, they should keep at least a two-second interval between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. This works at any speed but only under the best conditions (daytime, dry roads). When driving in adverse weather or road conditions, or at night, the following distance should be increased to at least four seconds.

To measure following distance with the two second rule, have your teen start to count “one thousand one, one thousand two” as the back bumper of the vehicle in front passes a fixed object, such as a signpost. If your vehicle’s front bumper reaches that sign post before the count of “two,” have your teen drop back and increase their following distance. Remember, the closer they drive to traffic, the harder it is to see what is ahead.

Encourage your driver to look several vehicles ahead and remind your teen that if any vehicle ahead slows down or stops suddenly, it is likely that all the vehicles behind will have to do the same. By maintaining a good following distance, your teen will have more time to react to the actions of other drivers.

Remind your teen that there could be vehicles following you. If your new driver keeps an eye on and communicates with the driver trailing you, they can avoid the possibility of being hit from the rear. You might suggest “pumping” the brakes by touching them on and off quickly to flash the brake lights and using turn signals in advance to indicate your teen’s intention to slow down, stop, or turn.

Your Role as Driving Instructor

At first, count out the two-second distance for your teen. As they become more experienced with the two-second rule, ask, “How many seconds are you from the vehicle ahead?” After a while, your new driver may be able to follow at a safe distance without having to count it out every time.

Common Problems & Solutions

  • New drivers sometimes count the seconds too fast and do not anticipate changes in the roadway as quickly as they should.
  • They may concentrate on following so much that they lose sight of pedestrians and other vehicles.
  • They also may tend to follow certain vehicles too closely—with continued practice, your teenager may realize the need to follow larger vehicles at a greater than two-second distance because of the inability to see around them.

Key Lesson

Good communication and safe driving go hand in hand. When being followed, communicate with the drivers of the vehicles behind you to prevent collisions.

Places to Practice

Choose the right time of day and use an open road with a moderate volume of traffic.

Next week’s lesson: Controlling Speed