Belgium has had 19 938 accidents with injuries or fatalities over the past ten years due to failure to observe safe following distances. Two hundred nineteen people were killed in these accidents, and 31 502 others were injured.
In Wallonia alone, as many as 4 122 accidents in such circumstances have occurred in ten years, or a good 400 per year, according to figures from the Walloon Road Safety Agency (AWSR), which is launching a new campaign for greater compliance with the safe following distance.
Mostly on highways
In general, 20% of accidents in Wallonia involve a rear-end or chain collision. Insufficient safety distance from the vehicle in front is often the cause of these accidents, which are more common on highways. “16% of injury accidents on highways are accidents in which at least one of the protagonists did not respect the distance between users. Against 3% on other types of roads,” says Belinda Demattia, spokesperson of AWSR.
The phenomenon is also said to be more common during the day than at night, mainly because traffic is busier.
Generally, it would also be mainly the youngest drivers (18-34 years old) who use tailgating the most. One in three would not respect maintaining a safe following distance, compared with 22% of 35-54-year-olds and 11% of over-55s.
Moreover, several surveys show that failure to keep a safe distance, particularly being tailgated by the vehicle behind, is highly irritating to all motorists.
Large-scale US research also indicates that failure to respect safety distances increases the risk of a rear-end collision by a factor of 13,5 compared with drivers who drive at a sufficient distance.
No specific minimum safety distance
According to the Belgian Highway Code, there is no specific minimum safety distance except for trucks. Trucks may not follow one another at less than 50 meters because they are heavier, and their braking distance is also longer.
For other types of vehicles, it is specified that all cars must consider their speed and maintain a sufficient safety distance between themselves and the vehicle in front. The car must also be able to stop in front of a foreseeable obstacle in all circumstances.
The two crocodiles’ technique
Generally, a gap corresponding to the distance traveled in two seconds is recommended. For a vehicle traveling at 120 km/hour, an interval of two seconds corresponds to around 70 meters.
Those who find it difficult to estimate the ideal distance versus speed just by the naked eye can always fall back on the two crocodiles’ technique. Choose a landmark along the road, for example, a bridge or road sign, and start counting “one crocodile, two crocodiles”, as soon as the vehicle in front of you passes this landmark.
If you pass this marker before you have finished counting the second crocodile, you are too close to the vehicle in front of you. Safety distances need to be increased in bad weather conditions or when faced with roadworks: “three crocodiles or seconds on wet roads, and four crocodiles/seconds”.
Singing a disco hit
Another handy way to count those two seconds is to sing the chorus of the famous disco hit “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”, which takes precisely two seconds. In Flanders, a new traffic campaign to combat tailgating was launched with this in 2018. Although we recommend that most drivers only do this when they are alone in the car unless, of course, they are exceptional singers.
You can also express the second rule using the best distance you maintain from your car in front. This simple rule helps you calculate the safety distance, namely, divide the speed at which you are driving by two: 80 km/hour safe distance (80 : 2) = 40 meters; 100 km/hour safe distance (100 : 2) = 50 meters, and so on.