This article explains what a space cushion is, why it’s important, and how to accomplish it on the road. Plus, we’ll talk about how driver software solutions can help preserve space cushion and support road safety.

What is a space cushion in driving?

You’ve heard of and probably been in “bumper-to-bumper traffic.” Yet it’s highly unlikely you’ve ever literally had your vehicle’s bumper that close to another bumper. That’s because when learning to drive, you were taught the value of leaving empty space around your vehicle at all times. The room between your vehicle and other vehicles on the road is called a space cushion.

We need a space cushion when driving to account for reaction time. Every driver has a different reaction time depending on their age, vision, skill, and more. The cushion allows time to not only see what’s happening on the road ahead, but to process that information and react.

Unsafe driving can happen whether vehicles are in motion or at rest. Drivers need to maintain space cushions at traffic stops to help avoid multi-vehicle pile-ups. 

What is the benefit of a space cushion around your vehicle?

Traffic collisions not only risk injuries and vehicle damage but are also costly. According to the 2021 Driver Safety Report, “on-the-job highway crashes cost employers $66,119 per million vehicle miles of travel.”

A space cushion provides a buffer to help prevent collisions and the necessary room to react in an emergency. In a dangerous situation, if you have the space, you’ll be able to brake or maneuver your vehicle away from a potential hazard.

Following too closely is a common cause of collisions on the road. Without a space cushion, you may hit a vehicle from behind or be forced into another lane of traffic. These crashes can cause common injuries such as whiplash, back pain, hip damage, concussions, scrapes, and bruises. Or even more serious injuries such as damaged internal organs, traumatic brain injuries, or death.

Even a collision that doesn’t result in injuries can cause insurance premiums to rise and see a fleet vehicle taken off the road for maintenance. 

How do you calculate a space cushion while driving?

Now that you know the benefits of a space cushion, we’ll cover how to calculate a space cushion while driving. The Smith system has five key rules to help you maintain the appropriate space between your vehicle and others on the road.

Also, keep in mind that distracted driving and inclement weather can both negatively impact your reaction time. Of course, it’s best to not drive while distracted. But you can’t always control the conditions for your drive. When the weather is poor or the sun is shining just below your windshield visor, road visibility will suffer. So you’ll want to extend your space cushion.

Smith system 5 keys to space cushion driving

In 1952, Harold L. Smith, a naval veteran, introduced his trademarked system to reduce the chance of accidents with a space cushion. The system is known as The Smith5Keys.

1. Aim High in Steering® 

Scan the road ahead at all times to get information about its conditions. You’ll be looking out above the steering wheel to give yourself a 15-second eye lead time to see and process.

2. Get the Big Picture®

Keep a seven-second minimum following distance. Cars follow a three-second rule, but trucks take longer to maneuver. Scan your mirrors to remain aware of changes in your driving environment. This is the one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi kind of counting. 

Pick a static object like a tree or lamp post. When the vehicle ahead of you passes that landmark, start counting until you reach the same object. Defensive driving experts recommend adding one second to your following distance for any condition less than ideal. 

3. Keep Your Eyes Moving®

If you have the experience of driving and not knowing what exit you just passed or what you saw over the last few miles, you were likely spacing out. By moving your eyes frequently and avoiding focusing on any one object too long, you’ll be able to stay more alert and aware.

4. Leave Yourself an Out®

Maintain a space cushion and anticipate what might happen around you, so you can react and maneuver out of the way.

5. Make Sure They See You®

To make sure other drivers see you, flash your headlights, use turn signals, and make direct eye contact. You can even use your air horn to ensure that other drivers are aware of you.

What areas of your vehicle should always have adequate space cushions?

Drivers are responsible for creating a space cushion in front of their vehicles. You also need to be aware of the sides and rear of your vehicle. Drivers need to know if someone is driving in their blindspot or if they’re in someone else’s blindspot. The rear-end space cushion is meant to be preserved by the driver behind you. However, you should still be aware of people tailgating you.

Which part of your space cushion is the most difficult to control?

Since you have to count on other drivers to preserve the rear-end space cushion, it’s the most difficult to control. When someone is driving too closely, you can take action:

  • Slow down and let the other driver pass you.
  • Change lanes to again create a space cushion.

However, when backing up a truck, it can be challenging to keep that space cushion. The easiest solution? Whenever possible, don’t back up. If you can’t use pull-through parking, and have to back up, get the overall picture first. Walk around your vehicle to identify any possible obstacles.

Difficult terrain like steep mountains and hills or hairpin turns are more stressful for commercial drivers too. Learn how to stay safe when driving downhill.

How Motive supports safe commercial driving

Leaving a space cushion isn’t the only way to support commercial driving safety. Technology is changing the trucking industry and playing an important part in improving road safety. Fleet management software and dash cams can help fleets with driver training and changing unsafe driving habits while improving driver retention.

Motive’s driver safety solution automatically ranks drivers according to how safely they drive. With the help of Motive’s proprietary DRIVE risk score, safety managers can easily identify drivers who are involved in unsafe driving behaviors and require immediate coaching.

Dash cams enhance driver safety and offer benefits such as improved commercial driver safety training and coaching programs. The video footage can also help:

  • Lower CSA scores.
  • Protect drivers from false claims.
  • Expedite insurance processes.
  • Increase accountability.

Every fleet needs a comprehensive safety program that uses both the latest technology and data to keep their drivers safe. Motive can help. Contact us today.