1. Transportation

Reader asks how much space to leave at stoplight

Published Sep. 14, 2016

After reading your recent article regarding plans to extend the left turn lane at the intersection of Park Boulevard and 113th Street, I was motivated to ask you a question: Why do people leave so much distance between the vehicle ahead of them when stopped in traffic at a red signal or stop sign? Many people leave up to a vehicle and a half to two vehicle lengths in between each stopped vehicle. Because of so much space being unused, many vehicles behind the stopped traffic cannot get into right- or left-turn lanes. This causes much more congestion. When I stop very close to the vehicle ahead of me, I have had some people lean out their car window and scream at me to get back.

I'm wondering what your opinion would be on this?

Greg Engfer

The question of the ideal distance a motorist should establish between their vehicle and the one they are behind at an intersection with a stop light or stop sign has come up many times over the years among readers of this column. Florida's state traffic law mentions following too closely in the context that motorists should not follow another vehicle "more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the highway." But it doesn't mention how closely one should or shouldn't pull up behind another vehicle at an intersection. And as we all know, "reasonable and prudent" for one driver may be perceived as complete insanity by another; people have their own preferences, convictions (sometimes erroneous) and intractable habits about such things.

The most common concern among drivers is having the ability to pull out of the lane if needed. (What if the car in front of you suddenly breaks down?) Some drivers worry about being involved in a chain-reaction collision that they believe may be avoided if they hang back far enough from the vehicle they are sitting behind when stopped.

While it's true that the only space we can control in this situation is the space ahead of us, and the desire to be cautious is understandable, establishing a full car length or more of space between two vehicles at a stop light is excessive.

The rule I learned as a new driver and follow to this day is to stay far enough away from the vehicle directly in front of me at a stop light to allow me to see its rear tires on the pavement. This distance allows for moving my own vehicle should the unexpected arise, such as an emergency vehicle approaching from behind, the car in front of me breaking down, or any other reason to get out of the lane quickly. It's always best to avoid getting into a bumper-to-bumper situation at an intersection — especially in high-volume traffic areas — if one is at all concerned about being able to maneuver out safely if necessary.

Email Dr. Delay at to share your traffic concerns, comments, and questions. Follow @AskDrDelay.