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What Is the “Three-Second” Rule in Driving?

What Is the “Three-Second” Rule in Driving? There are many practical rules that motorists use to drive safely. Georgia traffic laws outline many of these rules, such as not exceeding the speed limit or driving through a red light. Some rules are common-sense, like don’t continue driving when the fuel gauge reads “empty,” and remember to turn your lights on when it’s foggy or rainy so you can see and other drivers can see you. There are rules grounded in actual science, like pumping your brakes to stop in the rain instead of slamming your brakes which could cause your car to skid.

One rule that drivers may use is called the “three-second” rule. No, this has nothing to do with whether you should eat your sandwich if it falls on the floor of your car – you should never eat while driving.

Here’s how the “three-second” rule works, per ArriveSafeUSA:

When the vehicle in front of you passes a stationary object on the side of the road, begin counting “One-Thousand One, One-Thousand Two, One-Thousand Three”…Then, you should pass that same object.*

*One additional second is recommended for hazardous weather (rain, snow, etc.) or road conditions and construction areas.

A few thoughts behind the three-second rule

The three-second rule is based on the idea that there is a direct correlation between your traveling speed and braking distance. So, whether you’re traveling at 30mph or 60mph shouldn’t, “in theory,” affect the time you need to stop without rear-ending the car in front of you – assuming the car in front of you is traveling at the same speed.

The words “in theory” are in quotes because the three-second rule includes many assumptions that may or may not be accurate.

  • One assumption is that your reaction time won’t change regardless of your speed. The time you need to stop your car is the total of your reaction time (the time it takes to realize there is an emergency) and the time it takes to stop your car by applying your brakes.
  • Another assumption is that your vehicle’s size, weight, and mass do not matter. Generally, it takes a truck much longer to stop than a car – which means the three-second rule likely doesn’t apply unless the vehicle in front of you is the same type of vehicle.
  • A third assumption is that the roadway won’t make a difference. Stopping on a straight road isn’t the same as stopping on a curved road. It likely takes more time to stop on a curved roadway. The physical forces on vehicles in a curve also mean it’s more dangerous to slam on your brakes on a curved road than on a straight one.

Weather conditions may affect the three-second rule too. It normally takes more time to stop on wet roads than on dry roads.

Common strategies for avoiding a rear-end collision in Savannah

Georgia does not legally enforce a three-second rule. You wouldn’t win your case by claiming that you followed the three-second rule if you rear-ended another vehicle. Instead, drivers must keep a safe distance from the vehicles in front of them. All motorists must obey posted speed limits and drive safely under weather or road conditions.

In most accidents, you will be held responsible if you rear-end a car or truck in front of you. The burden is generally on the rear driver to demonstrate that they were driving safely and that something or someone else caused the rear-end collision.

A few key safety measures to use to minimize the risk of a rear-end accident include:

  • Don’t tailgate. You probably are if you feel too close to the vehicle in front of you.
  • Don’t drive while distracted. Distracted driving includes texting while driving, using a smartphone, eating, drinking, or doing anything that takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, and your mind off of emergencies.
  • Don’t do anything that will slow your reaction time, like driving while intoxicated or tired.
  • Don’t speed or otherwise drive recklessly.
  • Increase your stopping distance when it’s raining, foggy, or too sunny. Keep more distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you if the vehicle in front of you is bigger. In addition to needing more time to stop, larger vehicles such as semis and tractor-trailers have blind spots, which means the driver may not see you.
  • Don’t rely on technology to bail you out. You should know if you’re too close to a vehicle in front. Unfortunately, newer technology designed to warn you if you’re too close isn’t always reliable.

Seniors should leave more space between their cars and the vehicles in front because their reaction time is usually slower.

Keep in mind that cars traveling at 60mph are traveling about 90 feet per second. That means in three seconds, your car will go about 270 feet. For a car traveling at 30mph, your car will go about 135 feet in three seconds. This time is very short for such a long distance. Always err on leaving more space and assuming you need more time to stop.

Why might you need to stop suddenly?

Some of the reasons a vehicle in front of you may need to stop suddenly include the following:

  • A traffic light that changes colors
  • A deer or another type of animal crosses the road
  • A giant pothole or another object in the road
  • Puddles or water runoff
  • The driver in front of you stops suddenly
  • Cargo spills from a truck
  • Construction site signs require stopping/slowing and moving into other lanes
  • The car in front of you has a mechanical problem or emergency

At Harris Lowry Manton LLP, our Savannah car accident and truck accident lawyers represent victims of rear-end collision accidents and work to secure compensation for their injuries and losses. Common rear-end accident injuries include whiplash, tissue and muscle injuries, broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries. Call our Savannah offices today to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer, or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.


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