Stopping distances in the UK Highway Code should be
increased because drivers’ thinking time has been underestimated, according to
figures obtained by Brake, the road safety charity.
Brake asked TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) to provide
evidence on the time taken by car drivers to perceive, recognise and react to
TRL referred to academic literature and concluded that the
average thinking time was 1.5 seconds - more than double the 0.67 seconds set
out in the Highway Code (see table below).
That means the average total stopping distance - including
thinking and braking distance - is an extra 2.75 car lengths (11 metres) at
30mph and an extra 3.75 car lengths (15 metres) at 40mph compared with the distances
used in the Code. The difference rises to an additional 6.25 car lengths (25
metres) at 70mph.
Speed 20mph 30 mph 40 mph 50 mph 60 mph 70 mph
Brake/TRL study 19m 34m 51m 71m 95m 121m
UK Highway Code 12m 23m 36m 53m 73m 96m
Difference 7m 11m 15m 18m 22m 25m
Now Brake is calling on the government to increase stopping
distances in its next update to the Highway Code “as a matter of urgency”.
spokesman said: “These figures suggest stopping
distances taught to new drivers in the Highway Code fall woefully short. Even
though car braking technology has improved in recent years, the majority of the
overall stopping distance at most speeds is actually made up of the time taken to
perceive the hazard and react.
“The research shows that average thinking time is more than
double that set out in the Highway Code. A true understanding of how long it
takes to stop a car in an emergency is one of the most important lessons for
new drivers. Understanding true average thinking time reminds all drivers how
far their car will travel before they begin to brake - as well as highlighting
how any distraction in the car which extends this time, like using a mobile
phone, could prove fatal.”
spokesman said: “These findings from Brake and TRL are striking and should be
taken seriously. From time to time, new evidence will come to light that means
it is necessary to update the Highway Code and perhaps this is one such
“While the ability
for cars to be able to brake more quickly has improved, our reaction times
clearly haven’t. And arguably, our reaction times might even have got worse due
to all the distractions that have made their way into the car environment -
none more so than the smartphone that constantly demands our attention.
“Many drivers believe they are capable of doing
far more at the wheel than they actually are, but the fact remains that driving
is one of the most mentally demanding tasks any of us do.”