Fleet News

Brake argues Highway Code stopping distances should be extended

The road safety charity Brake says stopping distances should be increased because drivers' thinking time has been underestimated.

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 is 1.5 seconds − more than double the 0.67 seconds set out in the Highway Code (see below).

This means that 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. This difference rises to an additional 6.25 car lengths (25 metres) at 70mph.

Jason Wakeford from Brake 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 road safety charity is calling on the Government to increase stopping distances in its next update to the Highway Code.

Wakeford continued: “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.”

Overall average stopping distances



30 mph

40 mph

50 mph

60 mph

70 mph

Brake/TRL study







UK Highway Code















Click here for safety and risk management best practice and procurement insight

Login to comment


  • Nigel Boyle - 25/07/2017 12:36

    The Governments figures also do not take acount of the far better breaks or tyre technology further reducing stopping distances. Test I have seen show the reverse with cars stopping far before the old distances

  • john4870 - 25/07/2017 12:44

    Given that less than 1% of all drivers can accurately judge distances this is pointless. The HC table is there to help newbies learn 'if you travel faster - takes much longer to stop'. Many more variables yet unmentioned.

  • john4870 - 25/07/2017 13:02

    Most drivers are not alert when driving - vehicles are easier to drive so we focus less. Wrong message circulated - when did you last read a Highway Code? How closely?

  • Peter - 25/07/2017 13:10

    Did they also review real world stopping distances as part of their study? Is any part of this study conducted on a real road?

  • Edward Handley - 25/07/2017 13:42

    The braking distance quoted in the Code date back to the 1930s! Vehicle brakes and tyres have improved beyond belief in that time and anyone who doubts that should try driving an old car, and the increasing use of autonomous braking systems and adaptive cruise control on new vehicles means that a lot of vehicles can stop very quickly, even if the driver is not very alert. I do get where Brake are coming from though, close following has reached pandemic proportions, particularly among professional drivers who should know better. It's not the new drivers who are the problem, its the experienced drivers in big Audis and BMWs who think it is perfectly acceptable to sit ten feet behind the car in front while doing close to 80 mph in lane 3, and the highly trained professional truck drivers with Certificate of Professional Competence cards in their pockets who think that a car length is a suitable gap between them and the truck in front while doing 56 mph in a 44 tonner. Changing the Highway Code is not the answer. We have to change drivers' behaviour, and that needs more traffic police, safe following awareness courses (because speed awareness and drink awareness courses have been proved to work when little else does) and perhaps a very large hammer...

    • john4870 - 26/07/2017 12:31

      You are missing the point here. Most collisions happen in urban areas not on the faster roads - ask any fleet manager.

  • gary.chippendale@respirex.co.uk - 25/07/2017 15:21

    The points made by Edward Handley are all very valid and just like the Brake comments, they do not show the whole picture. If cars were spread further apart by a factor of 4 then we would need 4 times the length of road to accommodate all the cars travelling at current speeds. And yet there are more variables to consider

    • Diarmuid Fahy - 26/07/2017 16:24

      This explains how leaving more headway actually improves traffic flow, never mind avoiding accidents, https://youtu.be/iHzzSao6ypE

    • Diarmuid Fahy - 26/07/2017 16:25

      This explains how leaving more headway actually improves traffic flow, never mind avoiding accidents, https://youtu.be/iHzzSao6ypE

  • mark - 25/07/2017 16:50

    Whilst Gary's comment has some value most delays are often caused by over braking due to driving too close to the car in front

  • Robert Wain - 02/08/2017 20:17

    While I fully sympathize and whole heartedly agree with the message being given here, I feel it’s worth pointing out that it does not matter what we as trainers tell new drivers once they have passed their test they are more likely to bow to peer pressure than to the law. After all, we tell new drivers and old for that matter that a circular sign with a red boarder and the number 30 within means that the speed limit along that road is 30mph. but it doesn’t seem to stop them doing 55! Then there is the matter of “TRL referred to academic literature” which I notice was not cited in the article. (Could have been the Beano for all we know). Which states that “car braking technology has improved in recent years”. Well, so it has and so have tyres and road surfaces. Providing there are no passengers on of course I can stop a 10-ton bus doing 30mph in under its own length (40 feet). Final point, 1.5 seconds seems a woefully long time to think about it to me given that velocity at 30mph is 45 feet per second. This means while you’re thinking about your car has moved on 67.5 feet. To give you a picture the limit of a zebra controlled area (just one side) is 52 feet 1.so what this article is saying is that if you were outside the controlled area when a pedestrian stepped onto the crossing you would not have even started to apply your brakes when you hit them. 1 The Zebra, Pelican and Puffin Pedestrian Crossings Regulations and General Directions 1997 PART II ROAD MARKINGS 12. A Zebra crossing or a Zebra controlled area

  • Mr.Bean - 03/08/2017 13:13

    Soon most cars on the road will be fitted with City Safety systems, so around town shouldn't a problem going forwards. On the motorway warning lights will warn you that you are took close to the car in front, this will reduce the risk. If you have adaptive cruise the system will also help. As already mentioned, braking system today are much more advanced vs the early days. You will never stop people from under calculate the time required to stop a car, then you have the weather conditions which will be a big factor. Personally I don't see the need to change the rules, maybe the driving test should be enhanced to cover some of these elements.

Compare costs of your company cars

Looking to acquire new vehicles? Check how much they'll cost to run with our Car Running Cost calculator.

What is your BIK car tax liability?

The Fleet News car tax calculator lets you work out tax costs for both employer and employee