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Highway Code Falls Short On Stopping Distances

Highway Code Falls Short On Stopping Distances

By Swansway Motor Group 14-02-2018


The Highway Code prescribes stopping distances at different speeds. New independent testing shows that current stopping distances are too short

Advanced drivers always speak of following the `two second rule’, spotting when the vehicle ahead passes a fixed point, such as a lamppost, and then counting up to two.

If you’ve passed that same point before then, you need to drop back and make a longer gap.

Allow 2 seconds between your car and the one in front

On today’s heavily congested roads it is tempting to think this isn’t really practical and as we all know from our everyday experience, if we left that sort of a gap it is very likely going to be filled by another car overtaking us.  We can become blasé thinking that modern cars have excellent brakes, some of them even activate themselves these days, and anyway, when did I last crash into the car in front?

But, there are very good and valid reasons why we should think more about keeping a proper distance between ourselves on the road and the latest research suggests that official guidelines are not strong enough.

I sometimes think the Highway Code does itself few favours by lapsing into officialise and coming up with figures which common sense says are divorced from reality. On this matter, for example, it tells you that at 40 mph it takes 118 feet, or nine car lengths, to come to a stop and at 60 mph 240 feet/18 car lengths. These are such vague and seemingly arbitrary figures as to make them seem ridiculous.

Last summer the Transport Research Laboratory conducted tests for the road safety organisation, Brake, with modern cars, with modern brakes and tyres and showed that the Highway Code is unrealistic – and that in fact, the gaps needed for safety should be even longer.

Its data shows that the driver’s reaction time from noticing a hazard, deciding it’s dangerous and then pressing the brake pedal averages about 1.5 seconds, twice the time allowed by the Highway Code, which then gives us much longer stopping distance.

The Transport Research Laboratory says that the 118 feet given by the Code for stopping from 40 mph is nearer 170 (13 car lengths) and from 60 more than 300 (23 lengths).


Now, you may well think that the vehicle ahead of you isn’t suddenly come to a complete stop, in an instant and that is perfectly true, but let’s take the scenario of a car or cyclist you haven’t seen coming out of a side junction into the path of the driver in front of you, who jumps on their brakes for an emergency stop.

The gap you were so comfortable with just a second before, is suddenly a lot less so and the back end of that car will very quickly get very big in your windscreen.

Any experienced driver will tell you that giving yourself enough time and space, to respond to the road environment and traffic, are two of the golden rules of safe driving. The advanced drivers will tell you that

Only a fool ignores the two second rule.

None of us drive with a tape measure to gauge the distance to the vehicle ahead, but the point should by now be clear that for many of us, the distance we routinely leave, the gap we think is safe, is probably not.

Drive Safely Everyone!

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