Ask a Trooper: This 3-second rule will keep you safer on the road

The writer wonders what can be done to stop people from dangerous tailgating.

Minnesota State Patrol courtesy photo
Minnesota State Patrol courtesy photo
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Question: What are the laws or rules when it comes to drivers who tailgate? What can a person do to keep them from putting lives in danger? I haven't heard or read anything for a long time about the 3 second rule, is that still a recommendation?
Answer: Great questions, I believe following too closely is an underreported factor in many preventable crashes. The law states that vehicles pulling trailers must maintain a minimum following distance of 500 feet. This includes trucks as well as semi-truck tractors with trailers. The law also states that you shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the conditions of the highway.
While the law does not state a specific distance for vehicles not pulling trailers, the Minnesota Driver’s License Manual and Minnesota Safety Council talk about the “three-second rule.”
Applying the “Three-Second Rule” is a way to help keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you. This rule pertains to standard-length vehicles driving in ideal conditions. Choose a fixed reference point on the side of the road ahead, such as a telephone pole, signpost, tree, or bridge. When the vehicle ahead of you passes the reference point, begin counting: “One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three.” If you pass the reference point before you are through counting, you are following too closely. Gradually slow down until you have reached a safe following distance and speed. When road conditions are poor, or if you are driving a vehicle that is longer than the standard length, increase your following distance to a four- or five-second count.
If the vehicle behind you is following too closely, slow down slightly and allow it to pass. It’s best to treat someone following too closely similar to an aggressive driver.
• Get out of their way; disengage.
• Stay calm — reaching your destination safely is your goal.
• Do not challenge them.
• Avoid eye contact.
• Ignore gestures and don’t return them.
• Report aggressive and dangerous driving (vehicle description, license number, location).

Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Trooper Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205. (You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at, ).

Read up on other Ask a Trooper Q and As.
Sgt. Jesse Grabow shared tips and information for Minnesota drivers to stay safe during the winter.

Related Topics: ASK A TROOPER
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