Highway Code doesn’t take into account a driver’s reaction time


According to new research carried out by road safety charity Brake and the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), what all fully qualified drivers learnt and memorised regarding stopping distances could be completely wrong.

Their investigation put the Highway Code measurements to the test and found they fell ‘woefully short’ in terms of an actual real world scenario.

The DfT’s guide for motorists has never taken into account how long it takes for a driver to think and then react before hitting the brake pedal.

The study found the difference means it actually takes 22 metres longer for a car to come to a standstill from 60mph than what it says in the Highway Code – and the difference equates to more than 5 additional car lengths!

Highway Code doesn't take into account a driver's reaction time

Car stopping distances considered to be ‘woefully short’ claims new investigation © Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


As part of the study, TRL worked out how long it took for a motorists to notice, identify and react in an emergency situation that would require them to slam on the brakes.

TRL also reviewed academic literature to come to the conclusion that it takes 1.5 seconds for a driver to react when placed in a scenario demanding heavy-braking.

This figure is double what appears in the Highway Code (0.67s) and plays a huge part in the overall stopping time between noticing the danger and actually stopping the car.

What these figures mean is the average distance it takes to come to a stop is an extra seven metres at 30mph. The average length of a car is four metres, so this equates to nearly two extra car lengths.

In 20mph zones, the stopping distance is seven metres longer than what the Highway Code suggests.

When you compare figures printed in the Highway Code with TRL’s estimations, a car travelling at 40mph takes an extra 15 metres to stop, whilst a vehicle travelling at 70mph takes an extra 25 metres to come to a standstill – equal to more than six car lengths!

Brake would like the Government to update the Highway Code following these results as ‘a matter of urgency’.

“These figures suggest stopping distances taught to new drivers in the Highway Code fall woefully short,” said Jason Wakeford, spokesman for Brake, also adding: “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.”

Following their investigation, the DfT have said they will ‘carefully consider’ its findings.


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