Road safety charity Brake has called for the government to extend the stopping distance in the UK Highway Code “as a matter of urgency” after it found the published figures were wanting.

Brake commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to measure drivers’ thinking times; it concluded the Highway Code had underestimated how long it takes the average motorist to perceive, think and react to an emergency.

TRL found that the average thinking time was 1.5 seconds, more than double the 0.67 seconds printed in the Highway Code.

By that reckoning, the average total stopping distance − including thinking and braking distance − is an extra 2.75 car lengths (11 metres) at 30mph and an extra 3.75 car lengths (15 metres) at 40mph compared with the distances used in the Code. This difference rises to an additional 6.25 car lengths (25 metres) at 70mph.

This of course is contrary to popular opinion which for years has suggested that the Highway Code’s printed stopping distances are far greater than modern car braking systems can achieve.

Brake is most concerned about newly qualified drivers underestimating stopping distances in the real world; stepping into a classic for the first time, the difference will be even more marked.

“These figures suggest stopping distances taught to new drivers in the Highway Code fall woefully short. Even though car braking technology has improved in recent years, the majority of the overall stopping distance at most speeds is actually made up of the time taken to perceive the hazard and react.

“A true understanding of how long it takes to stop a car in an emergency is one of the most important lessons for new drivers. Understanding true average thinking time reminds all drivers how far their car will travel before they begin to brake − as well as highlighting how any distraction in the car which extends this time, like using a mobile phone, could prove fatal,” concluded Jason Wakeford, spokesperson for Brake.