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What does ‘stopping distance’ mean and why is it important?

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Your Guide to Safe Driving: Everything you need to know about keeping a safe distance from the car in front, how it could save your life, and how the weather can move the goal posts…

As the seasons transition, it's the perfect opportunity to refresh your driving knowledge and make sure you know some of the common behaviours on the road.

We’ve all been tailgated before… unfortunately it’s a common occurrence on UK roads. In fact, during this year’s summer holidays almost 20,000 drivers were spotted illegally tailgating on stretches of the M25, in just 24 hours! This dangerous driving behaviour only increases when there are more cars on the road, and among the important and safety-focused aspects to consider before setting off, there’s one you should prioritise: stopping distances.

It might sound like a textbook topic, but trust us, understanding this can make your trip a breeze. So, we’ve put together the perfect guide to go through it all for you… 

What does ‘stopping distance’ mean?

To put it simply, ‘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 latter of the two is especially important, as it varies depending on factors such as: your vehicle's speed, road conditions, and the efficiency of your brakes.

The Highway Code states that average braking distances in normal conditions 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 too. Different weather means different stopping distances. So, when nature's playing games, adjust your driving accordingly.

Because different weather conditions affect your steering and braking, let’s take a look at what’s what…

What else can affect stopping distance?

Before departing on a journey, there are also some factors you can control to make sure you’re driving as safely as possible.  These variables could affect how quickly you react and hit the break when you spot a hazard:

Distractions

  • Although legal, even a hands-free call can take your mind off the road.
  • Fiddling with the radio or heating can divide your attention, so if you have a passenger, it’s best to let them do it for you.

Tiredness 

 

Prepare for a road trip

Now that we’ve taken a look 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 when in foggy conditions.

Do you need breakdown cover? 

So, what if your car decides it's time for a little roadside drama? Cue the hero music – it's time for breakdown cover. Flat tyre? No sweat. Engine acting up? They've got your back. Breakdowns are like the unexpected plot twists of your journey. Breakdown cover is there if your vehicle falters. No one likes the thought of being stranded on the side of the road, and breakdown cover is just a phone call away.  So, if you haven’t already, check out our breakdown cover here

In conclusion, knowing your stopping distances isn't just about hitting the brakes; it's about knowing the roads, the weather, and your vehicle's capabilities. It's not about being a car expert, it's about being a safe and savvy driver. Rain or shine, winter or summer, safe driving makes you a better driver. Now, go out there, and keep the good vibes rolling (safely) on the road!

 

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