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Do Highway Code stopping distances need to be changed?

Jul 28, 2017

Road safety charity, Brake, is calling for stopping distances to be updated in the Highway Code to help new drivers in particular properly understand how long it takes to stop their car in an emergency, and consequently reduce the number of collisions on our roads.  Molly Puntis, Personal Injury Claims Handler, reviews the research conducted by Brake, and explains what difference it could have in preventing road traffic collisions.

What are the stopping distances?

Stopping distances are detailed in the Highway Code as the combination of both thinking distance (the distance you travel between reacting and applying the brakes), and braking distance (the distance you travel between applying your brakes and actually stopping). 

“The stopping distance takes into account a number of factors to determine how long it will take you to stop after seeing a potential hazard,” begins Molly.  “Those variables include how fast you are travelling, the condition of your tyres and brakes and also the weather conditions.  The study from Brake shows that it takes an average 1.5 seconds to spot a hazard and apply the brakes; it is this figure that differs from the Highway Code, and consequently makes their stopping distance inaccurate.”

The Highway Code currently states that it takes 0.67 seconds to spot a hazard and apply the brakes, with an example stopping distance of 12 metres if you are travelling at 20mph.  “With this adjusted figure from Brake of 1.5 seconds, it actually means the stopping distance is 19 metres when travelling at 20mph,” continues Molly.  “When put into context of being on a road with other road users, not only in their vehicles but cyclists and pedestrians, this 7 metres could cause a serious accident.”

The study continues to compare the stopping distances in the Highway Code to potentially more realistic figures from the Brake research.  At 40mph the Highway Code states the stopping distance would be 36 metres; 15 metres less than the 51 metres Brake states it would be.  At 70mph, the Brake stopping distance would be 121 metres; 25 metres more than the Highway Code and the equivalent to 6 car lengths.  

“All drivers are taught to take these stopping distances into consideration when driving so they know how far to stay away from the car in front of them,” continues Molly.  “However if they are being told the wrong information, which could be the case based on the study from Brake, then this is something that should be reviewed by the Department for Transport (DfT) as soon as possible.”

Department for Transport response

The DfT has stated that even though tyre and brake technologies have become more sophisticated in recent years to aid with braking distance, drivers do still need to be aware of the factors that can cause increased thinking distance.  Molly explains, “One of the potential reasons why our reaction time has worsened could be down to the increased distractions we have to hand now, such as mobile phones, and even though tougher penalties and laws are being introduced to combat this use, it is a real problem and one that people are still not taking seriously.”

Road traffic collisions

“Statistics show why it is so important to understand the right stopping distance when travelling, so drivers leave enough distance between them and the car in front to avoid a collision,” continues Molly.  “In September 2016, it was reported that there had been a 2% increase in the number of road deaths from September 2015, increasing to 1,810, and the number of vehicles on the road also increased by 1.4%.”

Molly concludes, “We see all too often the devastating consequences of a road traffic collision and would support any changes that can be made to promote appropriate stopping distances.  The DfT advises that in good conditions, drivers should keep a 2 second distance from the vehicle in front, rising to at least 4 seconds in wet conditions and 10 seconds on snow and ice.  There are a number of simple ways that people can work to reduce the number of collisions on our roads, such as putting mobile phones away, ensuring tyres and brakes are regularly checked, making sure they take regular breaks if they are tired; it all comes down to common sense, but when we are busy, in a rush or feel we need to answer that important phone call, we forget that these things can happen so quickly and can change ours or someone else’s life.”

If you have been injured in a road traffic collision recently and have questions for Molly about how Warner Goodman could support you in your recovery, you can contact the team on 0800 91 92 30 or email


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.