Since its launch in 1931, the Highway Code has set the standard for driver safety in the UK. But now, a new study has emerged questioning the accuracy of the stopping distances cited in the Department of Transport’s famous rulebook, and the impact this could have on driver safety.

According to road safety campaigners, the stopping distances listed in the Highway Code don’t take into account the time it takes for a driver to think, and should be re-examined as a matter of urgency to ensure both new and experienced drivers aren’t misinformed on safe stopping distances.

The study, commissioned by road safety charity Brake, found that it takes around 1.5 seconds for a driver to react to a hazard and apply the brakes, over double the 0.37 seconds listed in the Code. That means a car travelling at 20mph would take 19 metres to stop — seven metres more than the Highway Code’s calculation.

The inconsistency in stopping distances is more alarming at faster speeds, with a 25-metre discrepancy for cars travelling at 70mph. This raises huge safety concerns, particularly for new drivers who lack the experience in knowing how long it takes to stop a car safely in an emergency.

Speaking to Sky News, Brake spokesman Jason Wakeford said the Government needs to increase the stopping distances listed in the Highway Code “as a matter of urgency”, and that current figures in the book “fall woefully short” in ensuring that motorists are aware of safe and accurate stopping distances.

Mr Wakeford 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. 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.”

Since the study was published, the Department for Transport has released a statement announcing that it’s in the process of investigating the findings, and may move to amend the Highway Code’s stopping distances in the future.

Stopping Distances and Distractions — A Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Foot on brake pedal | Stopping Distances in the Highway Code could present road safety risk

The Highway Code is built on the assumption that driving conditions are perfect, cars are properly maintained and motorists are always 100% alert, but this is rarely the case. Indeed, while vehicle brakes continue to improve in performance, a growing number of distractions behind the wheel may indeed mean that stopping distances are no different — perhaps worse — than they were a decade ago.

The latest study from Brake shows us that motorists need to be completely switched on at the wheel to achieve the stopping distances and reaction times quoted in their new research.

Despite tough new penalties and a seemingly endless number of awareness campaigns, some drivers continue to use a smartphone at the wheel — putting their life and the lives of others at risk.

From a motorist’s perspective, longer reaction times and delayed reaction times make for double trouble. It would be easy for the government to simply amend the stopping distances quoted in the Highway Code, but what good would this do while drivers continue to be distracted? The tricky part is tackling the ongoing problem of drivers using a phone at the wheel — and that’s the area that needs real consideration.

We await the Department of Transport’s decision on the issue of stopping distances in the Highway Code.

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