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Road safety charity calls for Highway Code stopping distances to be increased

Road safety charity calls for Highway Code stopping distances to be increased

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 emergency situations.  

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.

Overall average stopping distances
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

  • Average car length = 4m  

Now Brake is calling on the government to increase stopping distances in its next update to the Highway Code “as a matter of urgency”.  

A Brake 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.”  

An RAC 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 instance.  

“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.”