Is the Highway Code wrong?

motorcycle riding through hills

Published on 14 December 2017 by Robert Drane

Road safety charity Brake asked the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to investigate the time it takes for drivers to perceive, recognise and react to emergency situations. The results demonstrated that the average thinking time is 1.7 seconds – more than double the time of 0.67 seconds that is specified in the Highway Code.

Brake calculated that this means the average total stopping distance for a car at 30mph – including both thinking and braking – is 11 metres longer than stated in the Highway Code. This is about 2.75 car lengths.

To some, this news may come as a surprise, given that brake and tyre technologies have of course developed since the Highway Code was originally written. However, Brake stated that such changes have little noticeable impact on stopping distances:

“Technology such as anti-lock brakes and stability control are designed to enable greater control over the vehicle, not shorten stopping distances. There may be a very small reduction in braking distance with modern technology, but not enough to significantly affect your overall stopping distance.”


Burning rubber

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) is concerned that the issues this new research raises are compounded by a reduction in the use of high-friction road surfaces. It said that, due to concerns over cost and durability, many councils have reduced their use of this surfacing in recent years. High-friction surfacing is reported to provide a skid reduction of up to 50% – reducing stopping distance.

Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the RSTA, said: “The increase in real-time stopping distances emphasises the need to have road surfaces that offer a high level of skid resistance, particularly approaching junctions and pedestrian crossings.

“Using high-friction surfacing saves lives and money, particularly when you consider that the associated accident and investigation costs for non-motorway accidents are calculated to be £1.4 million. Councils must balance the cost of high-friction road surfaces against their legal requirement to ensure that roads are safe and against the financial cost of accidents.”