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Understanding Stopping Distances: Essential Safe Driving Tips for UK Weather Conditions

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We’ve all felt like another car is a little too close for comfort before… unfortunately ‘tailgating’ is a common problem on UK roads.

In fact, tailgating is the single bugbear drivers have about other motorway users, with 87% of drivers saying they’ve experienced or witnessed it! This dangerous driving behaviour only increases when there are more cars on the road.

It might sound like a textbook topic, but, trust us, understanding the ins and outs of stopping distances isn’t just a good idea, it could prevent a serious accident. So, we’ve put together the perfect guide to go through it all for you…

  • Weather conditions demand a change in driving behaviour, particular rain, snow and ice.
  • Affecting nearly 9 out of 10 drivers, tailgating is the most common problem drivers either see, or experience themselves, on motorways.
     

What does ‘stopping distance’ mean?

To put it simply, a ‘stopping distance’ is your vehicle's journey from realising you need to stop, to the moment you actually do. That entire journey, from the "uh-oh" moment when you realise you need to stop, to a complete stop – that's your stopping distance. It's a sum of two vital elements: reaction distance and braking distance. The two-second braking distance is especially important as it can change depending on factors like your vehicle's speed, road conditions, and the efficiency of your brakes.

The Highway Code states that average braking distances on a clear day are as follows:

  • 20mph – 6 metres
  • 30mph – 14 metres
  • 40mph – 24 metres
  • 50mph – 38 metres
  • 60mph – 55 metres
  • 70mph – 75 metres

How does weather affect stopping distances?

Ah, the UK weather… where every day is a surprise. But guess what? It messes with stopping distances too. Rain? You’ll be slipping and sliding. Ice? Your wheels go ice-skating. Summer sun? Not to rain on your parade, but that affects stopping distance too. Different weather means different stopping distances. So, when nature's playing games, adjust your driving accordingly. The Highway Code recommends:

You can brush up on your stopping distances for all weather conditions by visiting The Highway Code official website.

What else can affect stopping distance?

Before setting off on your journey, there are some things you can control to make sure you drive as safely as possible. These variables could affect how quickly you react and hit the brakes when you spot a hazard:

  • Although legal, even a hands-free call can take your mind off the road.
  • Fiddling with the radio or heating can divide your attention, if you have a passenger, let them do it for you.
  • Lack of sleep severely affects driver attention, awareness and reaction time.
  • On longer journeys, you should take a break every couple of hours. 

How do I stop others following me so closely? 

So, you’ve brushed up on stopping distances and you’re leaving a safe gap between the car in front… but what if the person behind isn’t?
 
Unfortunately, we can’t pull them over to read this article… but according to the National Highways, there are some things you can do to avoid being tailgated:

  • Carry on doing what you’re doing: the key is to not let the tailgater get to you. Continue to drive safely and keep your distance from the car in front.
  • Let them overtake: Keep a steady speed so they can overtake easily. If it’s safe, you can pull in at a petrol station or side of the road until they pass you.
  • Expect later reactions: Because the driver is following you so closely, they’ll have less time to react, so make sure you show them your intentions by signalling early and clearly.
  • Keep your eyes on the road: It’s tempting to glare and stare into the rear-view mirror at the driver behind, but you should remain focused on the road or you may miss something happening in front of you.

What happens if I have a road accident?

Tailgating is a factor in 1 in 8 crashes on our roads, so it’s worth knowing what to do in case of an accident. In that awful moment, it’s easy to forget to take down key details and remember who you need to inform – from your insurance company to the police. Here are three key things to remember:

  1. Make a note of the other car’s number plate – without it you’ll only be able to make a non-recoverable claim. Make sure you also get their full name, address, contact number and insurance provider (if they can’t remember, don’t worry – we can find this out from their reg).
  2. Take photos of any damage and the other vehicle to help your insurance claim.
  3. Ask any witnesses for information and ask if they’d be willing to provide a statement for your insurer.

Check out our guide for more information on what to do if you’re in an accident.

Prepare for a road trip

Now that we’ve looked at how weather, distractions and tiredness could affect your stopping distance etiquette, let's break down the basics before you hit the road:

  • Car TLC: Give your ride some love. Brakes, tyres, oil… everything deserves a quick check before setting off on a trip. Regular maintenance can help keep your vehicle's stopping power in check. 
  • Expect the unexpected: Keep a keen eye on the roads to predict those pesky potholes and potential dangers before they appear. The more time you give yourself to react, the shorter your total stopping distance.
  • Adapt to conditions: Nature's moods change like, well, the weather! Especially in the UK. So, adjust your driving style to suit the weather conditions, as wet roads and icy paths demand cautious driving. Reducing your speed and increasing following distances can be life-saving.
  • Stay ahead of the game: Keep an eagle eye out for fellow drivers, and unexpected obstacles. Think of it as your road survival strategy. And don’t get fooled, rear lights can give a false sense of security in foggy conditions.

 

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