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Are You Driving Too Close? 


2 August, 2004


More than 40 per cent of motorists are 'an accident waiting to happen' as they drive too close to the car in front on motorways, according to a group of leading motoring bodies launching National Motorway Month today (2).

The figures come from a nationwide survey of 15,000 vehicles conducted by the National Motorway Month Group, and make for worrying reading. The results also show that more than 70 per cent of drivers were traveling too close to the vehicle in front when clusters of vehicles were measured.

Recent research by the Highways Agency suggests that close following is a contributory factor in more than one third of all personal injury accidents on the motorway network. Tailgating is also a major cause of road rage on motorways. 

National Motorway Month is a joint initiative by RAC Foundation and Auto Express Magazine, with support from BSM, Institute of Advanced Motorists and the Highways Agency, to encourage safer driving on our Motorways. The campaign will run through the busy holiday month of August.

The survey results have prompted the group to call for drivers to obey the '2- second rule' when driving, and also for further research to be carried out into an innovative system of roadmarkings that appear to be contributing to lessening tailgating in some areas.

The tailgating survey was also carried out at a location where chevrons, were painted white on the motorway at regular intervals. The chevron markings are designed to encourage drivers to keep their distance from one another. 

The results show that at a stretch of motorway before the chevrons, tailgating was at around 60 per cent. Encouragingly right in the middle of the chevron patch, tailgating appeared to drop off significantly. Tailgating did pick up again after the chevron stretch, however not to the extent that it was at beforehand, suggesting chevrons could have a role to play in changing driver behaviour. 

A previous study by the influential Transport Research Laboratory has shown accident reduction of 56 per cent at chevrons sites, compared to the same stretch of road before the chevrons were installed

At present there are only 6 sites on UK motorways with chevrons. The group are calling for further research to be undertaken into their effectiveness at preventing tailgating, and to consider whether they should be used more widely.

Although chevron markings may help drivers keep their distance from one another, drivers have a responsibility to keep two-seconds from the vehicle in front, and adjust their distance according to weather and traffic conditions. The National Motorway Month Group today welcomes Highways Agency plans to conduct further research into close-following behaviour. 

The survey results also picked up on other poor driver behaviour whilst tailgating, including people driving whilst chatting on mobile phones, children in the back seats of cars with no seatbelts or appropriate restraints, and numerous other examples of poor driver behaviour, all contributing to increasing the risk of accidents.

The National Motorway Month campaign will cover the issues of tailgating, driver fatigue, driver safety through roadworks [i.e. 'construction zones'], nervous drivers, and poor lane discipline. 

Highways Agency Variable Message Signs will also be used to reinforce the messages of the campaign. 'Keep Your Distance' will be displayed on several sites across the country to highlight the theme of tailgating this week.

Transport Minister, David Jamieson MP said:


"I welcome the initiative of National Motorway Month.

"Motorway safety is a responsibility for all of us. We are constantly striving to design and deliver safer motorways but motorists need to take care, follow the road rules and also use common sense. Don't tailgate, don't drive when tired, don't hog the middle lane and take extra care through roadworks - that way the roads are safer for all road users." 


Edmund King, Executive Director of the RAC Foundation said:


"It is frightening that more than 40 per cent of motorists are driving too closely on our busy motorways, especially as tailgating can lead to serious accidents and road rage. 

"Tailgating limits the ability of motorists to be able to react swiftly to events which may be happening further along the motorway, and significantly increases the chances of a motorway pile-up. We would urge drivers to obey the '2 second rule' when driving, and adjust their distance according to local weather conditions."


Richard Yarrow, Associate Editor of Auto Express Magazine said:


"The tailgating survey results clearly show that that chevron markings, designed to encourage drivers to keep their distance from one another, do actually work. These simple lane markings could have a significant role to play in reducing accidents on the UK's motorways. We urge the government to conduct further research into their effectiveness at reducing tailgating and consider whether chevrons should be used more widely."





DSA Page: Safe Following Distances





Highway Code advice on motorway driving and separation distances:

Motorway Driving

On the motorway, when you can see well ahead and road conditions are good, you should:

-- Drive at a steady cruising speed which you and your vehicle can handle safely, and which is within the speed limit;

-- Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and increase the distance on wet or icy roads, or in fog.

Separation Distances

-- Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. The speed limit is the absolute maximum. It does not mean it is safe to drive at that speed irrespective of the conditions;

-- Leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. Typical stopping distances are set out in the Highway Code;

-- Allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying fast traffic. Use a fixed point at the side of the road to measure the gap. The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads, and increased still further on icy roads;

-- Remember that large vehicles and motorcycles need a greater distance to stop. 






  • 1507 people were killed or seriously injured on motorways in 2002;

  • The M6 Preston Bypass was the first stretch of motorway built in Britain. It was opened in December 1958;

  • There are now 3,500 kilometres of motorway throughout the UK;

  • The M1 carries one million vehicles a week;

  • Motorways account for 20 per cent of road traffic but make up only one per cent of the road network;

  • The M1 was officially opened on 2nd November 1959. In the early days there was no speed limit, no central reservation, no crash barriers and no motorway lighting.



Source: RAC Foundation