Vehicle stopping distances are widely misunderstood. The typical driver assumes he can stop his vehicle quickly enough to avoid whatever crosses his path. Rear-end collisions are often attributed to at least one party's inability to stop in time to avoid an accident. Better understanding of factors determining stopping distances can help prevent driving disasters.
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Driver Reaction Time
Drivers take an average of 1.5 seconds to react to stimuli. This is the "reaction time," in which they must process what they see and decide what to do. Each driver's reaction time can vary due to fatigue, intoxication or distraction.
According to Marc Green of Visual Expert, there are five components to a driver's reaction time. Mental processing activities include sensation, recognition of the sensation, awareness of the situation and making a decision based upon the previous four factors. The final human component is how quickly the body can respond with movement. Any of these factors may be impacted by sleepiness, alcohol or drugs, or lack of concentration.
Vehicle Response Time
Vehicles vary in countless ways. Size, weight, tires, braking systems and general condition all affect a vehicle's stopping distance. A subcompact car with fresh tires will stop in a far shorter distance than a semi with worn treads. Air brakes may also take longer than hydraulic brakes to engage.
Weather and time of day affect every vehicle's stopping distance. Wet, slushy and icy roads cause a loss of traction, making it difficult to brake. Fog, smoke, rain, snow and darkness reduce visibility and visual contrast. Sun glare can temporarily blind a driver. Wind gusts can cause a loss of control. It is best to slow down and drive with extra caution when experiencing adverse conditions.
The faster a car goes, the longer it takes to stop. This is basic physics. Slow down to reduce stopping distance.
The 3-Second Rule
Following the 3-second rule will--in most situations--allow a vehicle to stop in time to avoid rear-ending the car in front. The rule states that a driver allow 3 seconds to elapse from the time a car in front passes a fixed visual point in the road to when the driver's car reaches said spot. In cases of poor vehicle condition, driver exhaustion and in bad weather, the driver should leave 4 to 5 seconds.
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