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Tailgating-More Fun Than Teasing Grizzly Bears
There are a number of activities that could be considered really dumb. Russian Roulette, especially with five out of six chambers loaded. Teasing an angry grizzly with a raw steak. Here is one that most of us condemn, yet many do on a daily basis, and that is following too close to other vehicles in traffic.
A very effective exercise we use at Sidorov Advanced Driver Training has to do with tailgating. First, in both classroom and check ride, we establish that a safe following distance is two to three seconds. That is to say, when the rear bumper of the vehicle in front has passed a stationary object, it should take at least two seconds before your front bumper gets there. This will seem like a big gap in heavy traffic, and yes, other drivers will cut in front on occasion. A proper Zen attitude must come into play here. The gap is your safety zone. Maintaining it is essential to avoid being caught in a potential trap.
Our exercise consists of staging two vehicles, a lane apart, on the airport taxiway. I generally drive the so-called rabbit. The student is in the other vehicle, with an instructor riding shotgun. The drill is that I accelerate to about seventy kilometres per hour, then stabilize at that speed. The student maintains station about half a second to one second behind, a common spacing in heavy traffic. Without warning, I perform a full emergency stop, while the student tries to get his or her own vehicle halted in time. They never succeed, despite, as the instructors point out, being as ready to act quickly as they are ever likely to be in everyday driving. In fact, I have had the other vehicle overshoot by thirty metres on occasion.
If you are following too closely behind a modern, well-designed car, and the driver goes to true threshold braking, you will not stop in time. Note the phrasing. It is not that you might have difficulty, or be unlikely to avoid the wreck. You will crash, just as someone who is in a so-called terrain trap will be buried if an avalanche occurs.
These days more and more cars are coming equipped with brake assist, which means even a tentative motorist can achieve maximum emergency slowing. In the past, the fact that most drivers couldn’t execute a proper panic stop gave the tailgater a bit more of a chance. That, increasingly, is no longer the case. Teasing grizzlies might be a better gamble.
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