UK Stopping Distances Explained

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UK Stopping Distances Explained

uk stopping distances explained

Understanding what are the stopping distances is an important part of passing your driving test and driving theory test.

In this article, we’re going to look at how to calculate a car’s stopping distance, how speed and road conditions can affect braking distance, and how to understand your car’s brakes.

Breaking Down Stopping Distance Components

Reaction Time
Meaning: This is the time it takes to see and respond to a hazard. For example, road accidents.
Variability factors: Reaction time increases with age, and is affected by alertness, and distractions. This is why it is illegal to use your mobile phone when driving but, it’s worth noting that in car tech can also be a dangerous distraction.

Thinking distance:
Meaning: The distance travelled during reaction time before braking.
Variability factors: Thinking distances are affected by speed and perception of a hazard, such as when cars ahead suddenly brake.

Braking distance:
Meaning: The distance covered while braking to a complete stop.
Variability factors: A number of factors can affect braking distance, including poor weather conditions, speed, and your car’s condition.

The Speed Factor: How Every Mile per Hour Makes a Difference:

To understand how much stopping distance is needed when driving, use the highway code stopping distance formula: Stopping distance = braking distance + thinking distance.

Higher speeds affect car stopping distances. The faster that a car travels, the longer braking distance is needed. For example, if you are travelling at 40mph it will take you longer to come to a complete stop than if you were travelling at 20mph. Here are typical stopping distances based on the speed travelled.

As a rule, you should leave enough distance between you and the vehicle in front; in normal weather conditions, follow the two-second rule and leave a two-second gap. When the weather is bad and you are travelling on wet roads, this will affect stopping distance and you should keep a greater distance from the car in front, because it will take you longer to stop.

Environmental Conditions and Their Impact:

Environmental conditions can significantly increase stopping distance. If there is poor visibility, the roads are wet or icy, or the roads are uneven, it will take you longer to stop.

Other factors that have a significant impact are tyre wear and the size of your vehicle. Heavier vehicles significantly affect overall stopping distance.

Know Your Car: Braking Performance and Individual Differences:

It’s important to understand your individual car’s braking capabilities and how a car’s Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) can impact stopping distance.

ABS prevents a car’s wheels from locking up during hard braking. It’s important to note that ABS shortens stopping distances, maintains steering control during emergency stops, and can reduce the risk of accidents as it provides more effective braking.


In summary, the key points to remember about stopping distances are:

  1. Components: Stopping distance comprises reaction time, thinking distance, and braking distance.
  2. Reaction time: The duration to perceive and respond to a hazard is influenced by age, alertness, and distractions.
  3. Thinking distance: The distance travelled during reaction time before braking, affected by speed and perception of danger.
  4. Braking distance: The istance covered while braking to a complete stop, affected by speed, road conditions, and vehicle condition.
  5. Understand your car: Knowing your vehicle’s braking capabilities is crucial for anticipating and managing stopping distances.
  6. ABS Impact: Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) enhance safety by preventing wheel lock-up, leading to shorter stopping distances and maintained steering control.

If you have any further questions or would like assistance in preparing for your driving theory test or feel nervous about taking to the road, don’t hesitate to contact Totally Driving.

Olie Smith
Olie Smith
Olie Smith is a DSA Fully Approved Driving instructor with years of professional experience in driver training. Oliver set up Totally Driving to give a more bespoke, personal feel to driving lessons.

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