I was driving on the 495 beltway around Washington, DC, when the car in front of me ran into the back of the car in front of them. An accident, directly in front of me. Disaster nearly struck, as I had not given myself enough buffer room to stop in time to avoid hitting the car in front of me. But thank goodness there was a wide shoulder which I was able to steer onto. Amidst flying bumpers and metal, I made it around the accident.
That taught me a valuable lesson: When cars have an accident and other cars run into them … they go from 55 or 60 mph to a complete stop in approximately 0 seconds. I always thought there would be a sliding stop. In my mind it would happen the same as if the car would be by itself on an open road, apply the brakes, then keep going for some distance before coming to a complete stop. But in the accident I saw, there was no decelerating stop … just one microsecond the car was going 60 mph, and in the next microsecond 0 mph.
After that time, I always drove with a larger buffer between myself and the car in front of me. I wanted to be sure to give myself enough room that I knew I could stop in time to avoid hitting that car in front of me if it should suddenly decide to change into a planted tree that’s not moving or going anywhere.
This new way of thinking soon paid off. I was again on the 495 beltway, and there was a multi car pileup just around the curve that wasn’t visible until the last second. Sure enough, the car in front of me could not stop in time, so he jerked his steering wheel to try and swerve around the accident. Just as I was breathing a sigh of relief that he made it, he lost control of his car, which then slid sideways into the cars jumbled in the accident. I was still able to stop before hitting them, because of my buffer zone. I was shaking, but then was able to drive around the accident so I could be out of the way of other cars coming up behind me.
In high school Drivers Ed I learned about leaving myself a certain size buffer, depending on how fast I am going, between my car and the car in front of me.
Drivers Ed Question: How large a buffer should I leave between my car and the car in front of me?
Drivers Ed Answer: One car length for each ten miles per hour of my speed.
My New Answer Due To Experience on the 495 Beltway: Forget the car lengths! Give myself enough buffer that I could still stop in time if the car in front of me should instantaneously make like a tree that’s not moving anywhere.
LESSON LEARNED: Drivers Ed is a great foundation, but experience requires continuously updating my lessons.
LESSON LEARNED: I can’t control the actions of other drivers, so my safety is MY responsibility.
LESSON LEARNED: Leave enough room so that if the car in front of me comes to a stop in 0 seconds, I will still be able to stop in time.
Ahhh, different people, different memories. My former husband read my copperhead post and told me he had a different memory of the incident. You might like to read HIS memory of the copperhead incident. Click on this link to go to my original post and see the “rest of the story”. Copperhead Story With Addendum Link
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