Why are drivers appearing to stop short more regularly now?
May 13, 2016 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Is this an insurance claim scam (i.e. purposefully intending to set up a rear-ending)? Is this because of the proliferation of hybrids that "drive differently"? I'm noticing it at least once a day now--maybe more-- mostly on city streets, and I've been driving for three decades. I think I'm noticing it in newer cars, hence the hybrid hypothesis.

Maybe they are not intending to stop short, but because there is still at least 6-7 feet ahead of them, I don't expect them to complete their stop so soon, and as the driver behind them, it feels like they stop short, because I myself am forced to stop short in response, having expected at least 3-4 more feet of cushion as has been the norm in my years of driving.

I'm not a tailgater by any means. The only reason I come close to the car in front of me is because we are coming to a stop at a light or something. But seriously, I have had A LOT of close calls this past year and it is always because there is a HUGE GAP in front of the car ahead of me. And I look around at other cars, and there's nothing like it in any other lanes or behind me.

I've been driving for almost three decades No accidents, no moving violations. No vision, depth perception, or reaction speed problems. And I hate tailgaters, so I don't do it (because it's dangerous!). Why have I had so many close calls, presumably because drivers in front of me are stopping short?
posted by RaRa-SpaceRobot to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Confirmation bias.
posted by fixedgear at 12:02 PM on May 13, 2016 [26 favorites]

Red light cameras?
posted by kickingtheground at 12:03 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

My car has sensors and they beep when I feel like I'm really far away from stuff. Maybe people are trying to avoid listening to an overly sensitive car?
posted by okieangel at 12:10 PM on May 13, 2016

When I learned to drive, I was taught to leave a car length in between my car and the one in front of me when coming to a stop, so that I would have someplace to go if the car behind me doesn't stop (slow speed - I might be able to move forward and avoid a collision, high speed, my car might avoid hitting the car in front of me and causing a 3 car collision). When the car behind me comes to a controlled stop, I can then move up to close the gap.

When you say that people are "stopping short," do you mean that they are slamming the brakes and stopping quickly (leaving an extra 3-4 feet)? Or are they coming to a controlled stop, just leaving more room than you are used to?

If the latter, I don't really understand why this would bother you (or cause a close call) if you are maintaining safe following distance. If the former, that's weird, but still can be "fixed" on your end by leaving a larger following distance.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:11 PM on May 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

Driver safety training for my job now includes the recommendation to leave a car length of space in front of you at stoplights and stop signs. This was not taught when I got my license. Maybe this advice is becoming common?
posted by DoubleLune at 12:12 PM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

I graduated from Young Drivers of Canada in the late 90s, if that helps at all.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:19 PM on May 13, 2016

fixedgear: Confirmation bias.

Wouldn't it be the frequency illusion aka the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?
posted by bluecore at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2016

When I learned to drive, I was taught to leave a car length in between my car and the one in front of me when coming to a stop, so that I would have someplace to go if the car behind me doesn't stop (slow speed - I might be able to move forward and avoid a collision, high speed, my car might avoid hitting the car in front of me and causing a 3 car collision). When the car behind me comes to a controlled stop, I can then move up to close the gap.

This is how I was taught to drive in 2001-2002, so maybe if this is "new" advice there are just more of us on the road these days than there were 30 years ago.
posted by phunniemee at 12:22 PM on May 13, 2016

I am seeing this a lot now in Toronto. Cars will stop a car length or more in front of the line at a red light. As someone who takes the bus this is problematic because very often it means the bus can't make it to the stop until that car moves farther forward when the light turns green, so instead of the bus being able to load/unload on a red it has to do this on a green which A) delays the bus and people trying to get off it and B) delays everyone behind the bus. If I'm driving and they're preventing me from changing lanes or turning I'll honk and that'll sometimes work but it is much harder for a pedestrian to get a driver to pay attention to them.

I think the reason for people doing this is that if they're rear-ended they won't get pushed into the intersection, which is a pretty good reason, but if people are going to start driving like this then we have to modify the roads to accommodate this.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:31 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

My vote is for the "closeness beeping sensors." I rented a car the other day that had this and it beeped in bumper to bumper traffic when I was at a distance that seemed pleeeeeenty to me for traffic that slow (tho I admit if someone had rear-ended me I would've gone into the car in front of me *cough*). But I bet those sensors are "training" people to keep a bigger distance. Tho that doesn't explain the distance at red lights.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2016

In hybrids, when approaching a stop, especially a traffic light or traffic backup, it can be beneficial to start slowing (either by braking at only partial strength starting earlier, or by just taking your foot off the gas pedal much earlier and coasting) much earlier than in a conventional car (where you'd tend to drive at normal speed until close to the stop, and then stop firmly). Are you noticing firm stops or is it maybe these unexpectedly-slow-rolling approaches to a stop?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:55 PM on May 13, 2016

I know that I'm much more likely to slam on the brakes at a yellow light when I know there's a red light camera than when I know there isn't one. But that's not really that new of a thing at this point. I've driven hybrids a lot as well, and even when the regenerative brakes kick with annoying suddenness (looking at you, Mom's Prius) I find that one learns to compensate within just a few minutes of driving, so I doubt that's it. I also find it hard to believe that there's been a sudden epidemic of a particular kind of insurance fraud.

My vote is that it's a combination of confirmation bias (you're looking for it now, so you notice it every time) plus maybe you went through a period of time where you were seeing these events with unusually high frequency just due to random chance. If you do enough driving, you're likely to see a freaky cluster of events like this sooner or later. Just because it's a statistical outlier doesn't mean there's necessarily some underlying cause.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:56 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have noticed this in Mpls, too, and here it's because people are texting and they don't want to rear-end the car in front of them. (I am being serious here, not facetious, and I have repeated dashcam proof.)
posted by TinWhistle at 1:00 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've had drivers stop short to try to fuck with me. It hasn't happened since smartphones became ubiquitous but I waited them out and they eventually drove away.
posted by brujita at 1:25 PM on May 13, 2016

Crash for cash has been A Thing here for a number of years.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 1:33 PM on May 13, 2016

There might be some effect of cell phones distracting drivers leading them to slam on the brakes rather than gracefully stopping when they notice traffic is stopped in front of them.
posted by Candleman at 1:37 PM on May 13, 2016

I don't have an answer for you but wanted to at least tell you that you aren't crazy because I notice this too and have wondered. I was really hoping to see a concrete reason why people do this. I am in San Jose and I figured it was some sort of 'foreigner' driving habit because sweet jesus we have plenty of that around here. It drives me particularly bonkers when someone does this in a way that stops people (me!) from being able to turn right on red. Move the fuck up, people!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 1:53 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Funny: I just noticed this, too. Both at a red light where the first car is six to 10 feet back from the line, and in a parking lot, where a car was weirdly not as deep into its space as it should have been but otherwise straight. It's tourist season here so I attributed it vaguely to people renting cars they are not familiar with.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:55 PM on May 13, 2016

I have a hypothesis: Modern cars have a more sloped hood than older cars, for aerodynamic reasons. This makes it hard to tell where the front of the car is located and can lead to leaving lots of room in front of the car.

I've moved to a city where parallel parking is required, and I always think I have parked in a tight space, but when I get out of the car there's several feet between my car and the one in front of it.
posted by muddgirl at 2:25 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am in LA - this is a thing!! I was actually going to ask a related question a week ago, which would have been: Why do so many drivers fail to slow down before lights, stop signs, etc., and instead wait until the very last moment to brake?

I assumed the answer would come back that braking systems in newer cars is "better" so folks have more confidence? Or maybe the consensus would be that cell phones distract people? Or that leaving a gap between cars is not taught in driving school any longer??

This drives me nuts. I agree people drive way too close. I'm in a neighborhood where folks routinely blow traffic lights, and I always have to triple check someone will stop before walking across the street, making a turn, etc.. I am CONSTANTLY checking my rearview mirror watching cars approach. Hey! I'm up high in my car! If I can't see your license plate, you are driving/stopping too damn close to my car.

For tailgaters here's what I do: Throw on my hazards. Let them back off an figure it out.

You're not crazy. I was going to ask this last week!!
posted by jbenben at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2016

I just want to clarify that my hypothetical AskMe refers to when I see people driving fast + close to me or another car in front of them because this absolutely means they will "stop short" sooner or later.

This is not something that was as prevalent 10 years ago. I've been driving in LA for longer than 10 years.
posted by jbenben at 2:32 PM on May 13, 2016

I don't know if this will explain all of the incidents you've experienced but this is exactly how the adaptive cruise control in my car works. When the radar detects that the car in front has stopped, the car will brake hard, harder than I would, and it stops almost a car length short. Because I'm afraid this behavior will catch the driver behind by surprise, I only let it do this if there's no one behind me.
posted by davcoo at 2:35 PM on May 13, 2016

In my area a lot of folks think they can avoid being carjacked if they leave a ton of space between them and the car in front of them, to magically escape the criminal. Trouble is, there's nowhere to go beyond the car that's stopped 10 feet in front of them in the unlikely and unfortunate event of actually being carjacked. All they're doing imho is clogging up traffic even worse than it already is, and enjoying an illusion of safety. It's gotten really noticeable in the last 5 years or so. They'll back up traffic so that cars that would ordinarily be able to turn right are unable to, because so many cars have the lanes backed up so far that they can't get to the empty right turn only lane.

Much worse is the recent habit of cars racing across multiple lanes as a light turns red, so they can be the first car in the lane when it turns green. Nearly 100% of those drivers then drive slowly and hold up the car they cut off to get in front of them. It's a huge 'thing' on Detroit roads these days and is making me go batty at the wheel. BATTY I say.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 6:09 PM on May 13, 2016

I have been calling this behavior "invisible car", as in "why are all these drivers leaving space for an invisible car in front of them?". I was not taught to do that. I haven't seen a significant number of rear-ending accidents at intersections in my 40 years of driving, so it does mystify me.
posted by Altomentis at 6:24 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

My friend has a pretty new Audi that handles a lot of stuff automatically, including stopping at lights. Usually she stops manually, but she demonstrated the automatic stop to me and it was very abrupt compared to the sort of gradual stop I'm used to, and it did leave a fair bit of space between her and the next car. Maybe you are seeing more people using this sort of autonomous braking feature?
posted by lollusc at 6:56 PM on May 13, 2016

The gap thing drives me crazy. I see cops do it, OK, if there's a problem they want an option. Other cars? You're not that important. On my high traffic street to get to the freeway, the only polite thing to do is crowd as much as possible so people behind you don't need to wait another cycle of the light. I had no idea it was being taught. You'd think this would make me more forgiving on my next commute, but it won't.

Agree there is definitely a big subset of people who do this because they are distracted by texting.
posted by mark k at 8:18 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe they got ticketed for not stopping at the limit line (when turning right, let's say) and are forever line-shy? I guess I've seen more people do this than I have in the past, but where I live, there are still way more red-light runners than over-stoppers.
posted by Standard Orange at 10:24 PM on May 13, 2016

i knew i wasn't making this up! I noticed it several times while out today and texting was definitely the explanation in one case. In other cases, I think the various automated sensor/radar or braking mechanisms mentioned above seem most likely (because newer cars). There is like 6-7 feet in front of the car. The cars will certainly slow down at a normal gradual pace, but the last 3 seconds is cut down to FIRM STOP NOW!
posted by RaRa-SpaceRobot at 11:23 PM on May 13, 2016

I have intentionally done this to try and avoid those guys who come around and try to "clean" your windshield for tips. But you would probably notice if that was the reason. :) Then again, if there's a lot of that in your area, maybe people are getting conditioned?
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:59 AM on May 14, 2016

So this is very weird but I have actually been stopping short of a stoplight sometimes?

Because sometimes I have to drive my dad's car, which is stick-shift, which I'm less competent with. And at some lights there is an incline leading up to the stop-line. Two times I have burned some rubber trying to get moving when the light turned green, in normal dry weather, and I'm aiming to avoid a third time. So at those particular lights I'm in the habit of stopping where the road is more level, one car-length back.

Maybe it's not actually a big deal to spin your wheels as you shift into first? I actually have no clue. It feels like a bad thing. But I don't think it's a big deal to hang back a bit. I keep an eye out for someone turning left from the other direction, but that's it.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 6:05 PM on May 14, 2016

I almost asked this myself! I have noticed this FAR more often in the last couple of years. It's pretty irritating to me for some reason. I sometimes am tempted to hop out of my car, knock on the window and ask. But I restrain myself. My two theories have been that people are driving distracted by cell phones and stop ASAP to get one more text in at a light, and also maybe that they are trying to avoid cameras for some reason, as I started seeing this constantly just as my little town put them in.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:24 PM on May 15, 2016

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