Keep your distance: Safety tips from IAM RoadSmart

Blog post posted on 09/02/21 |

While we must all remain off the road as much as possible at the moment due to coronavirus restrictions and social distancing, for those who do need to drive or ride on essential journeys the risk of an incident remains. Richard Gladman, head of driving and riding at IAM RoadSmart, therefore offers these practical tips on stopping distances, to help reduce the risk of collision.

Whether you’re a new driver or a seasoned old hand with many years of experience, there are times when you may be guilty of driving or riding too fast for the conditions, or too close to the other vehicles around you.

Following too closely to other cars or vehicles, known as tailgating, is a frequent factor in road traffic incidents in the UK. So, it’s important to make sure you reduce your risk of collision by leaving enough distance between you and the vehicle in front.  Then you can make the most of the benefits such as;

  • Having time to react and stop in time if cars ahead suddenly brake
  • Allowing you a better view of the road ahead to plan your drive or ride
  • Reducing your fuel consumption – your driving will become smoother and you won’t be required to apply the brakes every time the vehicle in front of you slows down

The Highway Code

The Highway Code details stopping distances in Rule 126 where it describes the two components which make up your overall stopping distance:

Thinking distance: this is the distance you travel while you are deciding how to react to a situation. The Highway Code has given a simple formula to calculate this of 1 foot (0.3m) per mph, which means that at 30mph you would travel 30ft while thinking through how to react. This applies to an alert experienced driver and equates to a 0.7s reaction time. However, various real-life studies have indicated that, in a measurement of time, this can be as much as 1.5 seconds. This would mean the thinking distance in most cases would be over double than that stated in The Highway Code, and it’s possible that at 70 mph a driver or rider would be covering over 200 feet (over 60m) before they even applied the brakes.

Stopping distance: this is the time it takes for your vehicle to stop when you apply the brakes. Using the formula adopted by The Highway Code, it takes threealmost four times longer to stop a vehicle from 60 mph than from 2030 mph. So, this means a vehicle travelling at 60 mph would need 240 feet (73m) in total to stop.

The Highway Code advises that when driving and riding in wet conditions you should double your following distance. It also suggests that in snow and icy conditions it can take up to 10 times the regular distance to stop. So, remember to leave a much larger following gap in the wet or when it’s cold enough to freeze.

“Only a fool breaks the two-second rule”

The well-known two-second rule is a handy technique for judging safe stopping distances: this should be the minimum separation gap between you and the vehicle in front. However, when driving and riding at 70mph it’s worth remembering that you will cover 205 feet (62m) every two seconds and you may need 315 feet or 96 metres to stop, so three-seconds will be preferable.

To ascertain what a two or three-second gap looks like, pick a fixed point on the road and count after the vehicle in front goes past it and make sure you don’t go past it within two seconds. This will help ensure you are keeping a safe distance.

Factors that impact the stopping distance

Remember that any form of distraction might detract from your ability to react and will lengthen the overall time it takes you to stop. So, it’s important to maintain your concentration at all times when driving or riding.

Weather, condition of the road surface, type of vehicle and the condition of your brakes and tyres can also  affect the time it takes your vehicle to stop safely, so all should be considered for every journey you make, enabling you to make adjustments where necessary.

Richard said: “Keeping your distance will make for a less stressful journey, not only for you, but also for your passengers and for the traffic in front. It’s sensible to reduce the gap in slow-moving traffic to assist in traffic flow, but when moving at speed the gap should really be equivalent to the overall stopping distance or a minimum of 2 to 3 seconds, or whichever is greater in the dry.  The larger the vehicle in front, the bigger the gap you will need to be able to see beyond it. 

“A larger following gap will allow traffic to move in and out of the space in front allowing you to react smoothly and without the need for constant braking.”

For further information and advice on how to improve your driving and riding skills, visit