If you’re a motorist who uses Twitter, there’s a good chance you might be following the account of the Skyway O&M Corporation, or SOMCO for short. The @SkywaySOMCO account currently has 229,000 followers and regularly tweets traffic info as well as generic motoring advice for drivers on this pay-to-play route. Normally this wouldn’t be much of a news item, but a recent tweet raised some eyebrows among road safety advocates, as it seemed that the company’s social media team was encouraging unsafe driving behavior on their road.
Below is a screenshot of the tweet in question. Have a look and see if you can tell what’s wrong with it:
That’s right: The advice given on the minimum safe distance between traveling cars on the Skyway is obviously incorrect, if not entirely dangerous. For some reason, someone didn’t check what the actual safe distance between two cars driving on a highway should be and simply tweeted wrong information, which, as we write this, is still visible on the account—and has also been posted several times in the past.
So, what is so wrong about this tweet? And what should they have posted instead? Well, a quick bit of research will tell you that the minimum distance between two cars traveling on a highway should be a lot more than one car length. The UK Highway Code, for example, recommends at least a two-second gap between your car and the vehicle in front of you when driving on roads carrying faster-moving traffic. That’s when the road conditions are good. During wet or bad weather, the advice is to extend that gap to four seconds or more. In Germany, drivers are often asked to keep a distance numerically equal to half their speed, meaning if you drive at the Skyway’s speed limit of 100km/h, you should be at least 50m from the car in front of you. This also roughly translates to the above-mentioned two-second gap.
The one-vehicle distance as advised by the Skyway social media team gives drivers almost no time to react and apply the brakes if the car in front suddenly slows down
All of these rules are designed to prevent accidents, of course. On the other hand, the one-vehicle distance as advised by the Skyway social media team gives drivers almost no time to react and apply the brakes if the car in front suddenly has to slow down for whatever reason. In fact, doing what the SOMCO Twitter account is suggesting would be classified as tailgating in the UK, and slap you with a £100 (P6,500) fine and three penalty points on your license. There’s also a bit of science behind all this, as seen in the graph below. Without making things too complicated: If you drive along at 100km/h and initiate an emergency braking maneuver, you’re very unlikely to come to a complete stop within 50m, and in most cases will need a heck of a lot more tarmac to avoid a collision. For spatial reference, the length of a full-size sedan is around 5m.
We can therefore take it as a fact that the advice given by the SOMCO Twitter team is incorrect and should be taken down ASAP. As for drivers, there’s a simple way to check your distance that has been used elsewhere for years. When driving behind another car on the highway, wait until it passes a fixed point such as a sign or a bridge and then recite the following: “Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.” If you pass the same point before you finish this sentence, chances are you are driving too close to the car in front, and so you need to slow down.
Maybe SOMCO could tweet this instead?