What is a Space Cushion?

What is a Space Cushion?

Have you heard anyone use the term “space cushion”? It is an important concept to understand if you want to be a defensive driver. Maintaining a space cushion around your vehicle is one of the best ways to avoid a collision.


A space cushion is defined as a certain amount of clear space you keep between your vehicle and the one in front of you, the one behind you, and the ones to either side of you. Allowing an adequate amount of space will help you if you need to make a quick decision to avoid an accident.


For example, if the car in front of you slams on their brakes without notice and you have no room to spare in front of you or to the sides of your car, you can brake quickly as well and hope you don’t crash into the other car or another car doesn’t crash into you. If, however, you have a space cushion, you have multiple options when handling the same situation. You can swerve into an open space beside you, or you could brake quickly and stop with enough time before rear-ending the car in front of you.


In perfect conditions, the ideal following distance is three seconds. To make sure you are allowing enough space, choose a stationary object on the side of the road – a sign, tree, building, etc. When the car in front of you passes that object, start counting – one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, etc. If you pass the object before you reach three, you are following too closely. Apply your brakes and create more space between your vehicle and the one in front of you.


Remember, driving conditions are not always perfect. If conditions are not ideal, allow a larger space cushion. Leave extra space in the following conditions:

  • Poor weather conditions – Rain, snow, fog, etc.
  • Poor road conditions – Ice, snow, rain, gravel, etc.
  • Construction areas
  • Heavy traffic
  • Areas where there are a lot of pedestrians


Poor weather reduces visibility and can lead to poor road conditions which reduces traction. Braking safely may be more difficult in these situations, so you should allow more space for stopping or slowing down. Areas where traffic may be stopping and starting frequently such as construction zones, schools, business or residential areas, or during heavy traffic may require additional space for stopping.


It’s also important to maintain space behind your vehicle. If you notice another car driving too closely behind you or approaching too quickly, apply your brakes gently to alert the other driver. Hopefully, this will make them drop back and slow down. If the driver persists, do not get angry or try to drive faster to the point of speeding. Switch lanes if possible and allow them to pass.


Finally, allow space to the sides of your vehicle. Defensive drivers always have a plan if something goes wrong. You may need to change lanes quickly or run off the road if to avoid a collision. If you have space to the sides of your vehicle, you could avoid a potential collision if another car swerves or brakes suddenly.


Remember to keep these tips in mind whenever you get behind the wheel. Driving defensively is one of the easiest ways to avoid a collision or a traffic ticket.

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