What Is the Three-Second Rule When Driving?


As an experienced motorist, you’ve likely heard a time or two before to maintain at least a car length distance between you and the car ahead of you for every 10 MPH you’re driving. Someone may have shared why to do that, which was to ensure you had ample time to reach a full stop once you applied your brakes so you didn’t crash into the vehicle ahead of you.

There’s another rule aimed at minimizing the incidence rate of tailgating accidents, which essentially are rear-end crashes, though. That is to adhere to the three-second rule when operating your vehicle.

What is the three-second rule when driving, and why should you follow it? Keep reading, where we’ll explain why.

Why Does This Unwritten Driving Rule Exist?

Most drivers are open to adopting new tips and tricks to avoid becoming entangled in a car crash, which explains the origins of the three-second rule. Long story short, this rule dictates how much of a distance (timewise) you should maintain when following another New Mexico motorist.

A certain distance equates to a specific amount of time. For example, you’ve probably long heard that you should be able to drive a mile per minute. This equates to a travel distance of 0.0167 miles per second.

According to the origin story of the three-second rule, provided you maintain at least a three seconds distance behind other drivers, you shouldn’t find yourself involved in a tailgating accident (also known as a rear-end collision).

Making Sense of How the 3-Second Rule Works

Creators of this rule suggest that anyone who maintains less than a three-second distance behind another driver wouldn’t have ample enough distance to reach a full stop necessary to avoid crashing into one of the following potential hazards if they needed to:

  • A road construction worker holding a stop sign
  • A child that darted out on a bike or chased after a ball
  • A police officer directing traffic
  • A pedestrian who suddenly attempted to cross the road or engaged in J-walking
  • Wildlife like deer, armadillos, or coyotes
  • A malfunctioning or disabled vehicle
  • A falling phone pole or tree

With all of the factors above, traffic analysts contend that what seems like a short three seconds is ample enough time for you to take note of a hazard that lies ahead, step on your brakes, and either swerve away from it or reach a complete stop before reaching it. 

Integrating This Rule Into Your Driving Technique

Now that you’re aware of the logic behind the three-second rule, let’s discuss how to best integrate it into your driving process. Following these three steps will help you do just that:

  1. Identify a stationary object, such as a mailbox or traffic sign that lies ahead
  2. Make a mental note if the driver ahead of you passes that item
  3. Begin counting to three after the motorist in front of you passes that object

If you pass that item you had in mind before the 3-second time window runs out, then you know that you’re not likely maintaining the appropriate spacing. However, if you haven’t yet passed within three seconds, you can generally feel confident in continuing to travel as you were.  

The 3-Second Rule Is a Bare Minimum Lead Distance To Give Other Drivers

It’s worth noting that the three-second rule is best suited for when there’s no inclement weather that could make roadways icy or wet. Otherwise, you’ll need to increase the amount of time you give yourself from three seconds to perhaps double that amount or more. You may also want to do the same when the following situations are at play:

  • Fog
  • Brakes are soft
  • There are bends in the road
  • The road is poorly maintained or under repair
  • Fallen leaves are covering the road
  • There are oil slicks

Why Do New Mexico Motorists Tailgate Other Drivers?

NM Stat. § 66-7-318 defines what the reckless driving behavior, Driving Too Close, is. Drivers tailgate other motorists for a variety of reasons, including because they’re:

  • In a hurry to get somewhere
  • Unhappy with another driver’s behaviors (i.e., cutting them off)
  • Distracted by their phone or something else in their vehicle

There are also drivers may simply drive too closely to other vehicles because they’re just simply unaware of how dangerous their actions are.

What To Do If Someone’s Violation of the Three-Second Rule Harmed You

There’s a common assumption among many motorists that rear-end crashes are relatively minor. People get that impression because when they think of these wrecks, they simply envision fender-benders that occur in slow-moving rush hour traffic.

The truth of the matter is that these types of rear-end accidents can be far more impactful and cause considerably more significant injuries than one may think.

Our Barrera Law Group LLC lawyers know how dangerous tailgating is in New Mexico. We want you to know that you may be eligible for a monetary settlement for your losses if you’re hurt. Meet with a car accident attorney who regularly handles cases where a motorist who followed too closely crashed into you. We offer free consultations, so contact us now.