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Safe distance between cars is subjective

Is there a new law that requires drivers to leave a space (adequate to see the road) in front of their car when stopping behind another car at a stop sign? Are new laws (especially traffic laws) published in the newspaper? If not, is there any easy way to find what new laws there are? — Judy Gourley

There is no law that I can find that spells out a prescribed distance.

I was unaware of this even being an issue until one of my kids got dinged on the DMV driving test for stopping too close to the car in front when stopping at a stop sign or stop light. I've since heard of another test-taker talking about the same thing, so it must be something the DMV driving instructors are keying on.

I'm not sure it was ever explained what the reasoning is, maybe to be able to move around the vehicle in front of you if it stalled without having to back up to do so. Anyway, I don't see anything that prescribes a certain distance in the vehicle code book, as opposed to signaling, which must begin at least 100 feet before turning or changing lanes. Or stopping at stop lines, which lists exactly how to make the proper stop.

I checked into the DMV Driver's Manual and I found a two-line blurb under the "Following Distances" section. On page 36 it reads, "When stopping behind another vehicle at a stop light, make sure you leave enough space to see where the rear tires of the vehicle in front meet the road. When the light turns green, return to a safe following distance."

The closest thing in the vehicle code is ORS 811.485 titled "Following too closely." It says that a person commits the offense of following too closely if the person drives a motor vehicle so as to follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon, and condition of, the highway. The offense is a Class B traffic violation, with a fine of $260.

As you can see, there is no set distance other than what is reasonable and prudent, giving due regard to speed, traffic volume and condition of the highway. Who determines what is reasonable and prudent? Drivers, police officers and judges, and apparently DMV instructors, too.

I don't favor that being marked as points off on your driver's test. At a stop sign, the speed is zero, traffic may or may not be heavy and the road depends on where you're at — there's too much subjective criteria here. I'd rather that they were graded on such things as whether they used their signals, did they speed, did they do something dangerous, were they able to parallel park? Anyway, that's my two cents for what it's worth.

As far as new laws being published, generally they are, whether via a news release from the Sheriff's Department or the newspaper doing so on their own.

When the cellphone law changed last year to take away the work exemption, that got a lot of press. So did the law about maintaining a safe distance from emergency vehicles a few years ago. Not to mention radio shows and other outlets where the word gets out.

The easiest way I know to find out about new laws would be to visit the DMV and look for its latest fliers, or see its website at www.oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV for the latest news.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501 or email cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.