Do stopping distances & the highway code need updating?
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  • Stopping Distance: Is The Highway Code Wrong?
  • 07 August 2017
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    Stopping Distance: Is The Highway Code Wrong?

    The stopping distance depends on two factors: Thinking distance and braking distance. It is a fact that needs to be committed to memory in order to pass your theory test. But, recent studies suggest it might be wrong.

First off, for those of you who have not recently taken your theory test and perhaps are not too up to scratch on the highway code, let’s have a look at what exactly ‘Stopping Distance’ is.

Stopping distance = thinking distance + braking distance

In the Highway Code, you learn about the factors that may increase stopping distance, this can be broken down into factors that have a direct impact on Thinking Distance (the time it takes for you to apply your brakes) and Braking Distance (the distance your car travels after you apply the brake).

  • Thinking Distance can be increased by:
    • Greater Speed
    • Tiredness
    • Alcohol and drugs
    • Distractions
  • Braking Distance can be increased by:
    • Greater Speed
    • Poor road conditions - icy, wet etc
    • Car conditions - bald tyres, poor brakes, additional weight

Currently, according to the Highway Code the stopping distances are:


Speed Stopping Distance
20mph 12 Meters / 40 Feet
30mph 23 Meters / 75 Feet
40mph 36 Meters / 118 Feet
50mph 53 Meters / 175 Feet
60mph 73 Meters / 240 Feet
70mph 96 Meters / 315 Feet


All of this is the kind of detail you are required to know to pass the multiple choice section of your Theory Test.


BUT, according to ‘Brake’ the road safety charity, drivers thinking time has been vastly underestimated. ‘Brake’ have attained figures from Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) that indicates that the average thinking time is 1.5 seconds which is more than double the 0.67 seconds set out in the highway code, a figure which has given us the above table of speed / distance.


This increase in figures would mean that there is an addition to add:

  • +7 metres at 20mph
  • +11 metres at 30mph
  • +15 metres at 40mph
  • +25 metres at 70mph!


It is because of these figures that ‘Brake’ are looking to the Government to take action and to update the Highway Code to include increased braking distance. New drivers are often seen as the most vulnerable and so it is important that these figures are reviewed and taught to new drivers. As the spokesperson for ‘Brake’ said “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”.

By understanding and highlighting the true stopping distance there will be many ‘knock on’ benefits. These benefits would include perhaps deeper understanding of the impact and effects that distractions to thinking time may have, such as mobile phone use. The most recent and major change to the highway code was mobile phone usage. As our article, ‘Mobile Phone Laws 2017 - What’s Changed?’ shows, the Government are taking major steps towards avoidable distractions behind the wheel becoming more and more prosecutable. Surely realising the impact of increased stopping distances will highlight this issue even more.

So, why has this only been flagged up now?

As with all sectors, sometimes things change and this information then needs to be updated. In this instance, it may be the developments in car manufacturing and more specifically, the development of autonomous driving and automatic braking, or perhaps just taking into account the added distractions?

Features like the Peugeot 108 Active City Brake is a technology from Peugeot that reacts when the driver fails to do so but this is only at speeds of 20mph or under and is generally for urban driving. Similarly, the new 2017 Nissan Micra features an Intelligent Emergency Braking system and even Honda technology features a Collision Mitigating Braking System (CMBS). Yes, braking technologies have improved but so has the power of vehicles.

There are a lot of different takes on this information. On the one hand, improved technology and braking systems including ABS and improved tyre technology, but, on the other hand, cars have got generally bigger and heavier and perhaps distractions are more…’Brake’ seem to focus on the idea that the average thinking distance has been vastly underestimated. Either way, this is definitely a subject worth thinking about. The Department for Transport said it would “carefully consider these findings”


If the Government take these findings into account and update the Highway Code, it’ll be one of the biggest changes to the code for a long time. The most notable changes to take place in recent years have been the change to the mobile phone penalties, the prohibiting of smoking in a car carrying under 18’s and, before this, the banning of smoking in all commercial vehicles.


What do you think?

  • Do you think stopping distances have increased?
  • Should the government update the Highway Code?
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