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Old 19th April 2019, 10:49 AM   #1
Steve001
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Leave a buffer for your car's bumper

Study contradicts practice of traffic light tailgating

When pulling up to a traffic light, most drivers get pretty close to the car in front of them, leaving just several feet of space between their bumper and the next.
The practice of packing tightly at traffic lights is widely accepted. Traditional thinking says the closer a car is to a traffic light, the more likely that car will be to pass through the intersection before the light turns red again.

https://m.phys.org/news/2017-11-buff...ailgating.html
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Old 19th April 2019, 10:52 AM   #2
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Funny you should mention that. I've noticed for the past year or so that people leave a lot more room between cars at traffic lights than they used to. Two, three car lengths are not that uncommon.

This is in the Seattle area. I don't know if this a real phenomenon or if it's nationwide.
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Old 19th April 2019, 11:11 AM   #3
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I always thought you should leave more space so you can start going before you see the guy in front of you moving.
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Old 19th April 2019, 11:13 AM   #4
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It makes sense, of course, if you actually think. A little more space gives you a little slack to accelerate earlier without risking a bump, and it doesn't hurt if you can catch up to the car ahead before it's through the intersection. After all, you can never go faster than that.
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Old 19th April 2019, 11:15 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Steve001 View Post
Study contradicts practice of traffic light tailgating

When pulling up to a traffic light, most drivers get pretty close to the car in front of them, leaving just several feet of space between their bumper and the next.
The practice of packing tightly at traffic lights is widely accepted. Traditional thinking says the closer a car is to a traffic light, the more likely that car will be to pass through the intersection before the light turns red again.

https://m.phys.org/news/2017-11-buff...ailgating.html
That is not new. We modelled that at college decades ago.
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Old 19th April 2019, 11:18 AM   #6
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Yeah, I don't doubt this is true. And I suspect if you leave a few car spaces in front of you at the light that the people in the other lanes will see the opening and slip in, packing the lane again. Plus the guy behind you will probably assume you've stalled or something and try to get around.
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Old 19th April 2019, 11:21 AM   #7
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I've done this ever since seeing The Fourth Protocol. There's a scene where the good guys have to pull out of a line of traffic. The make space by hitting the cars in front and behind several times. I'm in the habit of leaving enough room to swing out if necessary.
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Old 19th April 2019, 11:48 AM   #8
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For most people, following distance is a function of following speed. Purely as a matter of instinctive comfort zones. Fully stopped, you're pretty comfortable with being quite close to the car in front of you. But once you start moving, you want some space. So you wait for the car in front of you to give you some space, before you get going.

It's neat that they did a study, but all the study does is confirm what is easily observed by anyone who's ever examined their own behavior at traffic lights.
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Old 19th April 2019, 01:13 PM   #9
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First, the actual reason, you are supposed to leave a minimum 3/4 car length gap when stopped at a light is to facilitate getting out of the way if an emergency vehicle approaches from behind.

Second, the only accident I have ever been in was while stopped at a light. It turned green, but the car in front of me only moved about a foot then stopped again. I did the same. The car behind me hit me, pushed me into the car in front of me, and pushed that car into the car in front of them, who it turns out had stalled and never moved when the light changed.
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Old 19th April 2019, 01:14 PM   #10
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It is common for researchers to focus on one aspect of a system and decide what is best. This is known as suboptimization and the health of the larger system may suffer.

This research concluded: "The results mean there's no point in getting closer to the car in front of you when traffic comes to a stop,"

I can think of two circumstances where this would not be helpful and inconsiderate to other drivers.

1. If the intersection where you are stopped has a left turn lane (US traffic), unnecessarily spacing out the traffic in the adjoining through lane prevents entry into the left turn lane.

2. If stop lights are relatively close together on a road, using this approach makes it more likely that traffic approaching the prior intersection could be forced to not enter the intersection even though the light is green or could get trapped in the intersection when the light changes.
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Old 19th April 2019, 01:49 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by TruthJonsen View Post
It is common for researchers to focus on one aspect of a system and decide what is best. This is known as suboptimization and the health of the larger system may suffer.

This research concluded: "The results mean there's no point in getting closer to the car in front of you when traffic comes to a stop,"

I can think of two circumstances where this would not be helpful and inconsiderate to other drivers.

1. If the intersection where you are stopped has a left turn lane (US traffic), unnecessarily spacing out the traffic in the adjoining through lane prevents entry into the left turn lane.

2. If stop lights are relatively close together on a road, using this approach makes it more likely that traffic approaching the prior intersection could be forced to not enter the intersection even though the light is green or could get trapped in the intersection when the light changes.
Re. item 1. While lived in FL, there was such a left turn lane which was rather short. During rush hour, the backflow from the rather short left turn lane regularly stopped traffic on the through lane, even though the number of cars wanting to turn left could fit on it.

In general, the advice is right. But there are local specialties like this one, and numerous drivers who overdo it.
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Old 19th April 2019, 04:48 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Ron Obvious View Post
Funny you should mention that. I've noticed for the past year or so that people leave a lot more room between cars at traffic lights than they used to. Two, three car lengths are not that uncommon.

This is in the Seattle area. I don't know if this a real phenomenon or if it's nationwide.
Not where I live.
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Old 19th April 2019, 05:24 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Ron Obvious View Post
Funny you should mention that. I've noticed for the past year or so that people leave a lot more room between cars at traffic lights than they used to. Two, three car lengths are not that uncommon.

This is in the Seattle area. I don't know if this a real phenomenon or if it's nationwide.
World wide.

It's something that I just cannot fathom, but often see in the morning on the way to work (here in Oz). Literally THREE car lengths between cars waiting at the lights.

Very often that behaviour prevents access to turning right, or turning left lanes, and I'm starting to wonder if that is the intention...
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Old 19th April 2019, 06:46 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by TruthJonsen View Post
It is common for researchers to focus on one aspect of a system and decide what is best. This is known as suboptimization and the health of the larger system may suffer.

This research concluded: "The results mean there's no point in getting closer to the car in front of you when traffic comes to a stop,"

I can think of two circumstances where this would not be helpful and inconsiderate to other drivers.

1. If the intersection where you are stopped has a left turn lane (US traffic), unnecessarily spacing out the traffic in the adjoining through lane prevents entry into the left turn lane.

2. If stop lights are relatively close together on a road, using this approach makes it more likely that traffic approaching the prior intersection could be forced to not enter the intersection even though the light is green or could get trapped in the intersection when the light changes.
It's true, of course, that there are instances where the otherwise best practice is not best. There is, for example, in a neighboring town, a complicated intersection in which one turns left across traffic to a short portion of roadway only a little over three cars long, ending at a stop sign. It's a busy intersection, and if people don't crowd in, it holds up traffic even worse, either by backing up the prior lane or by having one overoptimistic joker with his butt end sticking out.

I would still say that the study represents best practice in normal circumstances, but yes there should always be a "yes but" at the end.
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Old 19th April 2019, 06:49 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by novaphile View Post
World wide.

It's something that I just cannot fathom, but often see in the morning on the way to work (here in Oz). Literally THREE car lengths between cars waiting at the lights.

Very often that behaviour prevents access to turning right, or turning left lanes, and I'm starting to wonder if that is the intention...
I wonder if some of those newer cars with collision avoidance systems are contributing. Perhaps they give a warning or the like at an earlier point than we're used to. Just a guess, as with any luck I'll never have to actually drive one, but a friend of ours has some kind of Subaru with this, that I think actually jams on the brake when it thinks there's going to be a collision.
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Old 19th April 2019, 10:15 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by bruto View Post
I wonder if some of those newer cars with collision avoidance systems are contributing. Perhaps they give a warning or the like at an earlier point than we're used to. Just a guess, as with any luck I'll never have to actually drive one, but a friend of ours has some kind of Subaru with this, that I think actually jams on the brake when it thinks there's going to be a collision.
Oh ho, I like your thinking. That is a good idea.

My car has those features, and when I first bought it, it was in "country mode" i.e. complaining about vehicles that were a long way in front.

Once I set it to "city mode" it has behaved itself nicely.

I can't complain about the system, because it saved my car (and me) from a driver who lost control when performing a reckless lane change. The brakes triggered a fraction of a second before me. (He ended up facing me in my lane, and our cars were nose to nose, inches apart at best.)
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Old 20th April 2019, 02:20 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by novaphile View Post
World wide.

It's something that I just cannot fathom, but often see in the morning on the way to work (here in Oz). Literally THREE car lengths between cars waiting at the lights.

Very often that behaviour prevents access to turning right, or turning left lanes, and I'm starting to wonder if that is the intention...

Yes, worldwide: https://goo.gl/maps/FEDDpGLCm2VGiYNcA
And I don't think that it's the intention.
Two lanes for left turns, one for straight ahead and one for turning right. Notice the line of cars waiting to turn right. In rushhour traffic, it sometimes gets so long that it blocks the lane for those going straight ahead. If anybody leaves a hole big enough for another car, I fill it up instead of blocking traffic behind me, which tends to upset the idiots who either don't care or are just ignorant about blocking people behind them. (I'm on a motorcycle so it's easier for me to do than for those driving a car.)
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Old 20th April 2019, 05:28 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by novaphile View Post
World wide.

It's something that I just cannot fathom, but often see in the morning on the way to work (here in Oz). Literally THREE car lengths between cars waiting at the lights.

Very often that behaviour prevents access to turning right, or turning left lanes, and I'm starting to wonder if that is the intention...
Iíve noticed this as well.... Where thereís a dedicated right-turn lane, often the last car in line will stop far enough back to prevent entering that lane.... Even though all the cars ahead are closely packed.
They also ignore all attempts to get them to move up a bit! Canít think but that it must be deliberate....

As police officers, we are early on taught to leave sufficient space so that we can pull out if we get a hot call.
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Old 20th April 2019, 05:43 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Molinaro View Post
First, the actual reason, you are supposed to leave a minimum 3/4 car length gap when stopped at a light is to facilitate getting out of the way if an emergency vehicle approaches from behind.

Second, the only accident I have ever been in was while stopped at a light. It turned green, but the car in front of me only moved about a foot then stopped again. I did the same. The car behind me hit me, pushed me into the car in front of me, and pushed that car into the car in front of them, who it turns out had stalled and never moved when the light changed.
This applies if you live in the USA.
Another good reason to have space is to allow some reaction time in case you're rear ended. If you don't have that room and you are rear ended and hit the car in front of you, you are at fault.

Last edited by Steve001; 20th April 2019 at 05:51 AM.
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Old 20th April 2019, 06:46 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Steve001 View Post
This applies if you live in the USA.
Another good reason to have space is to allow some reaction time in case you're rear ended. If you don't have that room and you are rear ended and hit the car in front of you, you are at fault.
Triply apt if it is winter driving conditions.
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Old 20th April 2019, 08:18 AM   #21
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I think the larger buffer space some of you are seeing may be due to distracted driving. When texting or whatever, one tends to extend the buffer.
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Old 20th April 2019, 08:16 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by TruthJonsen View Post
I think the larger buffer space some of you are seeing may be due to distracted driving. When texting or whatever, one tends to extend the buffer.

Could be, I've never seen this phenomenon of multi-car length stopping, that would piss me off. Then again you could probably weave through them and get up front!

I scoot up when in a left turn lane so the cars behind me aren't blocking the straight lanes, or vice versa.

People don't think of others enough on the road.

In driving school I was taught to leave enough room to steer out of the lane if necessary. I believe it was that you "should be able to see the tires of the car in front of you", depending on the car of course. This is probably a good idea if you are parked behind or in front of a Tesla as I hear they like to burst into flames.

The one place I am the most aggravated by other people is on the road. California seems to have the worst drivers. I've had 5 people back into my truck (4 times in two years, no damage to my Tacoma) and been rear-ended twice on freeways, injuring me both times. I tend to follow big rigs now and go slow.
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Old 20th April 2019, 09:43 PM   #23
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I've only driven a couple of times in California, but even though I was warned of it, I found Californians' failure to use turn signals quite surprising. I mean, if I didn't know better I'd think perhaps the car manufacturers made up for the extra emissions stuff by leaving the signals off.
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Old 20th April 2019, 11:30 PM   #24
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A common complaint here is that turn signals are "optional extras" on any 4WD vehicle.

To my utter horror, I must report that I've heard locally that learner drivers are being taught not to indicate unless they know another car is nearby.

(Pedestrians, cyclists, all the cars you don't know about, can all go to hell apparently)

This is up there with the Australian idea of indicating a right turn, to mean "it's safe for you to overtake." (Remember we drive on the left, so it should be that the vehicle uses the LEFT indicator to indicate that it is safe to pass).

There have been countless crashes in country areas because of drivers trying to overtake a vehicle that turns right in front of them.

"But Officer, they were indicating that it was safe for me to pass."
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Old 21st April 2019, 07:05 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by novaphile View Post
This is up there with the Australian idea of indicating a right turn, to mean "it's safe for you to overtake." (Remember we drive on the left, so it should be that the vehicle uses the LEFT indicator to indicate that it is safe to pass).

There have been countless crashes in country areas because of drivers trying to overtake a vehicle that turns right in front of them.

"But Officer, they were indicating that it was safe for me to pass."
That custom of using the turn signal to indicate it is safe to pass is also found in Saudi Arabia. I hated driving there.
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Old 21st April 2019, 07:10 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by catsmate View Post
That is not new. We modelled that at college decades ago.
Did you publish the results? If not, that research don't count. ;-)
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Old 21st April 2019, 07:12 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by mgidm86 View Post
Could be, I've never seen this phenomenon of multi-car length stopping, that would piss me off. Then again you could probably weave through them and get up front!

I scoot up when in a left turn lane so the cars behind me aren't blocking the straight lanes, or vice versa.

People don't think of others enough on the road.

In driving school I was taught to leave enough room to steer out of the lane if necessary. I believe it was that you "should be able to see the tires of the car in front of you", depending on the car of course. This is probably a good idea if you are parked behind or in front of a Tesla as I hear they like to burst into flames.

The one place I am the most aggravated by other people is on the road. California seems to have the worst drivers. I've had 5 people back into my truck (4 times in two years, no damage to my Tacoma) and been rear-ended twice on freeways, injuring me both times. I tend to follow big rigs now and go slow.
Quoting myself. Another good reason to have space is to allow some reaction time in case you're rear ended. If you don't have that room and you are rear ended and hit the car in front of you, you are at fault.
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Old 26th April 2019, 06:49 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by Steve001 View Post
Did you publish the results? If not, that research don't count. ;-)
I believe the lecturer in charge collated it for publication, perhaps only internally, as it was undergrad work. Certainly it was placed on the old TCD bulletin board system.
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Old 26th April 2019, 07:18 AM   #29
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Originally Posted by Ron Obvious View Post
Funny you should mention that. I've noticed for the past year or so that people leave a lot more room between cars at traffic lights than they used to. Two, three car lengths are not that uncommon.

This is in the Seattle area. I don't know if this a real phenomenon or if it's nationwide.
It's Seattle, they're just afraid to get close to the stop light and have someone think them rude.

The article in op basically just says its a wash up to about 25ft and that if you leave a little room there is a reduction in fender benders at lights. They also ran the experiment in controlled conditions with 10 volunteers. I'd like to see how this works out in conditions with 10 cars at each side of the intersection.



Originally Posted by catsmate View Post
I believe the lecturer in charge collated it for publication, perhaps only internally, as it was undergrad work. Certainly it was placed on the old TCD bulletin board system.
Was it an actual study or just undergrad lab work for engineering students. We did a lot of that sort of thing at my undergrad, none of it was published and about half of it was faked.

Last edited by ahhell; 26th April 2019 at 07:19 AM.
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Old 26th April 2019, 07:28 AM   #30
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Whenever I see a gap between cars at a traffic light, it is often a person texting who has stopped short because they are not paying enough attention. However, the gap left by these folks is typically way too large than just leaving some room.

Also, it's been my experience that if you leave a gap in traffic, someone will want to take it.

Like the 2-3 second rule in traffic. If you actually leave 2-3 seconds gap in traffic, you will forever be getting cut off by cars moving into the space.
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Old 26th April 2019, 08:15 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Steve001 View Post
Quoting myself. Another good reason to have space is to allow some reaction time in case you're rear ended. If you don't have that room and you are rear ended and hit the car in front of you, you are at fault.
Not true.https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclope...accidents.html
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Old 26th April 2019, 08:42 AM   #32
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Post 2002, you can see many drivers trying to leave ample room between their vehicle and the other road users not just at lights, but in traffic.

When you become conditioned to always have at least 50' between your vehicle and potential (vied) threats and also having that minimum 50' cushion to maneuver away from other threats, it's a hard habit to break.
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Old 26th April 2019, 04:17 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by ahhell View Post
It's Seattle, they're just afraid to get close to the stop light and have someone think them rude.
That's the native Seattleites. Not too many left now, the city is overrun with Californians driving like maniacs and midwesterners driving like they've never seen that many cars in one place.
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Old 26th April 2019, 04:53 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by bruto View Post
I wonder if some of those newer cars with collision avoidance systems are contributing. Perhaps they give a warning or the like at an earlier point than we're used to. Just a guess, as with any luck I'll never have to actually drive one, but a friend of ours has some kind of Subaru with this, that I think actually jams on the brake when it thinks there's going to be a collision.
Nope. I have a new Subaru, and the collision avoidance system is very sophisticated, and won't take any action in the normal "stopping at an intersection" process.
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Old 26th April 2019, 06:30 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by ZirconBlue View Post
Nope. I have a new Subaru, and the collision avoidance system is very sophisticated, and won't take any action in the normal "stopping at an intersection" process.
Glad to hear it. So I guess we're back to poor driving practice.
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Old 27th April 2019, 12:43 PM   #36
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Just this morning I had someone in an oversized pickup right on my bumper when a deer ran in front of me. No contact, but it was too damn close.
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Old 27th April 2019, 02:09 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by novaphile View Post
A common complaint here is that turn signals are "optional extras" on any 4WD vehicle.

To my utter horror, I must report that I've heard locally that learner drivers are being taught not to indicate unless they know another car is nearby.

(Pedestrians, cyclists, all the cars you don't know about, can all go to hell apparently)

This is up there with the Australian idea of indicating a right turn, to mean "it's safe for you to overtake." (Remember we drive on the left, so it should be that the vehicle uses the LEFT indicator to indicate that it is safe to pass).


There have been countless crashes in country areas because of drivers trying to overtake a vehicle that turns right in front of them.

"But Officer, they were indicating that it was safe for me to pass."
I have literally never seen or heard of this
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Old 27th April 2019, 02:12 PM   #38
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Since reading this thread, I have tried sitting back a bit at the light. Not much, just a little over a car length. And it does seem like I can accelerate almost as soon as I see the car in front of mine's brake lights go off, without having to slow down again.
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Old 27th April 2019, 02:56 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by wareyin View Post
True with caveats though as the article pointed out. Under typical stop conditions your supposed to leave enough distance between you and the car in front of you so that if you are reared ended you'll have time to stop or your skid marks indicate you kept enough room you likely won't be at fault, but if you don't leave enough distance and the evidence indicates then you'll be at fault. It's always in ones best interest to practice defensive driving.
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Old 27th April 2019, 03:01 PM   #40
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What I find perplexing is this response. All the cars are stopped at a light and one of the cars moves a few inches forward almost with out fail the car behind will close the gap. Why? It's a few inches. It's like a knee-jerk response.
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