Strange Driving Habits: Gappers and Creepers

(I wasn’t sure if I should post this here, or in GQ, but it felt more mundane and pointless, so I think it goes here…)

There’s a couple of driving habits which I regularly see out on the road, but have never really understood (though I have some theories). I’m curious to see if any fellow Dopers have any thoughts on these – in particular, if you, yourself, do either of these, I’d love to understand why.

The Gapper

A Gapper is someone who pulls up to a line of stopped cars at a stoplight, and leaves a considerable space (usually at least a full car length) between the front of his car and the rear of the car in front of him.

I’ve noticed that most Gappers are older drivers. I have two hypotheses about why they do this:

  • They feel that, if they’re too close to the car in front of them, they’ll be pulling the exhaust from the other car into their passenger compartment
  • They want to leave enough space for emergency maneuvering, in case an accident happens while they’re stopped.

The Creeper

When a Creeper pulls up to a line of stopped cars, he looks like a Gapper – he stops some distance away from the car in front of him. Then, over the course of the red-light cycle, he slowly creeps up, closing the space. Most Gappers will stay still for 5 or 10 seconds, then creep up a few feet, then stop again, then creep again.

I have no idea why a Creeper does this. Maybe his foot gets tired on the brake pedal? Maybe he thinks his brakes get tired? :wink:

Gappers, I think, are in the eye of the beholder. One car length isn’t too much, in my estimation. It’s the ones who stay 10 yards back that perplex me.

Creepers, on the other hand, infuriate me. When the traffic is stopped at a light, just stop. I tend to work puzzles while waiting for the light to change, and creepers just won’t ever stop. If I don’t move up once in a while, I become a gapper, and that’s just not happening. I cannot understand why they just can’t stop!

In my driver’s ed class, we were taught to leave a cushion between our car and the one in front of us at a stoplight. As you suggest, the logic was that if we were rear-ended, we wouldn’t be pushed forward into the next vehicle.

The rule of thumb was to stop far enough back so that you could see where the rear wheels of the car in front were touching the road. Depending on the size of the car and the posture of the driver, I imagine that might result in leaving a distance of a car length or so.

I was also taught this, with the additional rationale that in the event a driver approaching behind you failed to stop, you’d be able to accelerate rapidly while turning the wheels fully right then fully left, in effect jumping over the curb to safety. We even practiced this manoeuvre (but without the threatening car).

You were supposed to come to a stop 3-4 car lengths behind the stop bar or already-stopped vehicle, then gradually close that to one car length as more vehicles appeared behind you.

I don’t ever leave 3-4 car lengths of space, and I’ve never used this emergency procedure, because I can’t figure out how to identify a car that is failing to stop until it’s too late to do anything.

For the more paranoid, I heard somewhere (don’t recall where–I think it may have been some Discovery Channel-type show on professional security drivers) that leaving that much space allows you to pull to the right or left and get around the car in front of you in the event that, say, an SUV full of Uzi-wielding Russian mafiosi or Mexico City kidnappers should happen to pull up behind you.
Or if the car in front of you should just happen to have a breakdown, you won’t be stuck at that red light (and won’t have to go into reverse to get out).

I’ve done the creeper thing before simply because stopping at a stoplight is boring and it’s something to do while you wait for the light to change.

3-4 car lengths? I hope you mean Matchbox cars, or Mini Coopers, because that is an incredibly unnecessary amount of space.

I was also taught to stop far enough back to see the other vehicles rear tires on the road.

I’m a gapper and creeper in the winter on icy roads, but I think most are!

I’ve heard that rule-of-thumb, as well. For me, in my PT Cruiser, that seems to translate to about an 8 or 10 foot gap. I suppose, for a tiny little old lady in a Mercury Grand Marquis, it might translate to a 30-foot gap. :smiley:

The problem with Gappers is that the technology has changed. When you pull up to a stop light there are sensors under the pavement. If you do not pull fully ahead to the white stop line, the light won’t activate. It will not change if it doesn’t know you are there.

In the past, traffic lights were set on timers and would just change at regular intervals. But now, if the sensor does not think a car is at the light, it won’t change. Motorcycle riders already know this, sometimes a bike will not trigger the light.

Traffic sensors will also try to determine how many cars are backed up at a light. Polite and timid drivers who hold back and don’t pull fully up to the stop line, followed by another polite and timid driver who holds back a couple car lengths behind the first car, can stop the light from working at all.

Well, it WILL change, it will just change on the longer interval rather then the shorter.

I suspect creepers are impatient and insecure people who need to feel in control of their situation. By slowly moving forward they fool themselves into thinking they are not actually “trapped” at a light.

I don’t think that rule works anymore (or ever did). If you were in a large car with a long hood (think '66 Chrysler Newport) with a similar car in front of you with a long trunk, that might mean a 25 foot gap. In my '05 Freestar (or any of the new modern cars that barely have a hood) and a car with the rear wheel set close to the back bumper, that’s might only be 2 feet.

The way it was explained to me was that you needed enough room to cut the wheel all the way and hit the gas to get out of line without hitting the car ahead of you. On most cars, that only requires about 5 feet.

The only times I’m ever a gapper is when the car in front of me has a noxious exhaust. In fact I’m hoping someone very impatient will jump in and fill the gap.

And I’m occasionally a creeper. The only time I ever listen to radio is sometimes when I’m driving. And sometimes when you’re stopped at a light there’s terrible reception from something . . . which creeping can cure.

Depends on the stoplight in question. There are some in my area, at intersections between busy streets and far-less-busy streets, which never change unless a vehicles is waiting on the less-busy street.

Those sound like two mild mannerisms, but they are both quite annoying to other drivers. As already stated, if you stop 50 feet back from the stop line, you aren’t likely to trigger the sensor (and at some lights, if you don’t trigger it, it NEVER changes). Leaving longer distances than needed can also contribute to traffic congestion and people not being able to get into turn lanes and make it through on a dedicated green, etc. Leave your proper gap and no more - driving really works best when we’re all operating on the same guidelines.

As a manual transmission driver, the creepers also drive me crazy; if we happen to be on a slight downhill, I can creep along with you without fully engaging the clutch/gas sequence, but if not, I’m just going to stay back because I’m not interested in coming off the clutch multiple times waiting at one light. ETA: If I see a problem behind me, I will, but not just to close a gap for the sake of closing a gap.

Gappers can bug me when I’m trying to get into a left-turn lane, and there would be room to squeeze by if they’d just move up a little.

I don’t leave a gap at stop lights, but I do on the freeway; typically a full car length. Last year I was rear-ended twice in one week in chain collisions while I was stopped. Both times the people behind me, who were close, were pushed into me. The first time I was too close to the stopped car in front of me and was pushed into him. So I make it a point to leave room in front of me on the freeway when traffic slows or stops. At least that way the front of my car will be saved, and the guy in front of me will be unscathed, when some moron a couple/few cars back can’t find the brake pedal.

I’m just learning how to drive (I’m 36 years old, btw) and I like to leave enough space so I can see the tires of the car ahead of me on the road, plus a smidge more. It’s what I was taught in Driver’s Ed and I’m comfortable with that.

rant: Unlike the a-hole in the huge pick-up behind me the other night, (3rd in-car lesson, I’m in a fully-marked “Student Driver” car) who pulled up so close all I could see was his grill in my rear-view and who honked at me while I was making a left turn because I paused to let the on-coming car go through first. I’m not gonna turn into the path of an on-coming vehicle just because you’re in a f’n hurry, jerkwad. /rant