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  • Writer's pictureRajshekhar Govilkar

Safe Distance Between Life & Death

One of the most visible and demonstrable criterion of economic growth and financial advancement of any country is the number of vehicles on the road. Though the quality of the vehicles., in terms of performance and safety has increased phenomenally, regrettably, the quality of driving and the essential road sense have not improved much in India, to the extent that is required and expected. The statistics relating to road accident deaths is staggering. The number of deaths in such road accidents is mostly due to over speeding, which, is an element of rash and negligent driving. Automobile accidents, be it head on collisions, fender-benders or even rear-ending another vehicle are all far too common and frequent for any kind of comfort in the level of road safety. The question arises as to what should be the safe distance between two running vehicles proceeding in the same direction.

A case came before the Motor Accident Claim tribunal in which, a Maruti car collided against a truck moving in front of it, while travelling in the same direction. One person died and some others were injured. It was alleged that the truck driver suddenly applied the brakes and/or moved on the right; as a consequence of which, the Maruti car behind him dashed against that truck. The matter went right up to Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Nishant Singh & Ors. v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd. through Regional Manager & Ors., Civil Appeal No. 10145 of 2016, in which, the final order was delivered on 27.04.2018.

Paragraph 10 of the said Judgement, while referring to Regulation 23 of the Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989, reads as follows:

"23. Distance from vehicles in front. The driver of a motor vehicle moving behind another vehicle shall keep at a sufficient distance from that other vehicle to avoid collision if the vehicle in front should suddenly slow down or stop." The expression 'sufficient distance' has not been defined in the Regulations or elsewhere. The thumb rule of sufficient distance is at least a safe distance of two to three seconds gap in ideal conditions to avert collision and to allow the following driver time to respond. The distance of 10-15 feet between the truck and maruti car was certainly not a safe distance for which the driver of the maruti car must take the blame. It must necessarily follow that the finding on the issue under consideration ought to be against the claimants."

Without going further into the facts, it is to be noted that the courts held the car driver to be guilty of driving in a rash and negligent manner as he had not kept sufficient distance from the vehicle in front of it, to avoid collision. The thumb rule for sufficient distance was described as, having a safe distance of at least 2 - 3 seconds, in ideal conditions, to avoid a collision and to allow the driver behind to respond.

As per the thumb rule which is generally followed the world over, which however, has not been described in the judgement, the driver is to assess the situation and to identify a point - may be a tree or a sign post on the road and to start uttering One Thousand One, One Thousand Two, One Thousand Three, the moment the vehicle in front passes that sign/point. If the vehicle behind crosses the identified spot before the driver of that car finishes saying One Thousand Three, the distance maintained between the two cars would not be considered as a safe and sufficient distance between the two vehicles. In the United States of America, instead of counting One thousand one, …; people do count the seconds by saying 'One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi', as saying 'One Mississippi', etc. amounts to approximately one second. 

Hopefully, this judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, though not widely circulated or known now, should be given its due publicity and the 'thumb rule' as referred to in the Judgement should be incorporated in the training given to all those who wish to learn how to drive a car.

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