Road Safety News

Celebrities ask: “How fast can you stop?”

Friday 1st February 2013

Road safety teams and police forces from across eastern England have joined forces to launch a new campaign targeting young drivers.

The initiative, ‘How fast can you stop?’, is aimed at 17 to 24 year olds and has been designed to show the effect different speeds have on the ability to stop a moving vehicle.

Featuring actor Matthew Wolfenden from Emmerdale, and Chloe Sims from The Only Way is Essex, the key resource is a short film which demonstrates how different people react to cars unexpectedly braking, and the effect on their ability to perform an emergency stop. Both celebrities travelled at speeds of 30mph, 35mph and 60mph to show the impact speed had on their braking distances.

The campaign was produced in partnership by Hertfordshire County Council, Luton Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Amey and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Road Safety Partnership alongside Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Road Policing Unit and Cambridgeshire Road Policing Unit.

Matthew Wolfenden, said:  “I think the skill is definitely in your personal reactions to what is happening on the road, because there is no skill in driving fast. Anyone can drive fast - you stick the pedal to the floor and go. The skill is in stopping and your reactions to stopping and to the cars around you.”

Chief Inspector Richard Hann, from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Roads Policing Unit, said: “Driving at speed increases thinking distances and braking distances, and if you are driving too close to the car in front, you may not have enough time to stop.”

The film was shot at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire with advice from Chris Beare, Millbrook's chief marshal, in a new car containing current safety features. Stopping distances could be even further in an older or poorly maintained vehicle.

Dave Charlton, event operations manager at Millbrook, said: “Campaigns, such as ‘How fast can you stop?’, help to educate drivers that driving safely can reduce collisions and save lives. The team at Millbrook Proving Ground is pleased to be able to support these initiatives.”

Click here to watch the celebrities take part in the stopping distance test.

For more information about the campaign contact Michelle Watkins at Amey on 08453 656204.


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Of the three stop and swerve manoeuvres in the video only one managed to be within the stopping guidelines as per Highway Code. Two of them were therefore further than those that would have occurred had not the vehicle swerved. On the last occasion the driver was heard to complain that he couldn't stop, there being no further braking action whilst he was in a swerve. It was well over the distance suggested by the H/Code. All this in a modern saloon with the latest braking equipment.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

The question shouldn't be about how fast can you stop but about how much do you observe. It then helps the whole process of awareness and the critical ten seconds prior to every encountered road hazard.
C Armstrong, Safe Speed

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)

I certainly wish that the Cortina driver who rammed my 1965 Alvis drophead in 1984 had swerved when he could not stop! Whiplash left me unable to walk for 3 months, in pain for several years and almost put me out of business.

The point surely is that any driver realising he cannot stop in the distance available should be prepared to steer out of trouble instead, as the possibility of an impact due to the swerve is preferable to the certainty of an impact if he does not.

As examples here have shown, the best judgement in the world can be useless if something entirely unpredictable happens. I fail to understand how anyone can fail to be aware of that and be prepared to swerve if necessary. I am concerned that we are teaching drivers to be automatons.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (4) | Disagree (7)

Unfortunately the video is out there and no doubt will be picked up by other interested bodies. What upsets me most is that the basics of good driving seem to be ignored ie: the proactive defensive driving technique as opposed to the "it's too late to do anything but brake and swerve to avoid hitting something because you were too close".

I certainly would not wish to drive on a road with others who are driving constantly close to my rear in the belief that they could swerve out of the way in the event of me having to brake hard or stop suddenly in 1/1000th of a second.

In the real world I know that they do but that doesn't make it right but in some circumstances avoidance by swerving may be deemed necessary. Most vehicles are now equipped with crumple zones front and rear that will reduce impact velocity and also they have air bags for further safeguard of driver and passengers, but sideways it's not as protected and others may become involved. As a police officer I have known circumstances where avoidance has led to more injuries and deaths.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

Adrian - the campaign is being evaluated by the University of Bedfordshire.
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

This thing about being able to 'steer around' is, I'm afraid, fundamentally flawed thinking. As previously it's a matter of forward observation and planning. The clues are always there and I also ike the maxim, 'What you can't see can hurt you' or, as my very dear friend Derek Van Van Petetegem, who was a former Hendon Advanced Wing Instructor - back in the days when police driving really did have standard - would say, 'The art of driving is knowing when to go slowly'. The problem is most people don't how how to pick up the clues and therein is the vulnerability.
Nigel Albright

Agree (5) | Disagree (2)

Bob Craven is fairly obviously right. I can’t think of a situation where if you could stop in time, you would still swerve. If you knew you couldn’t stop in time, you might instinctively swerve, but may end up in a worse situation – that’s assuming you had the presence of mind to release the brake first or, if applicable, were not thrown by the ABS operating and remembered to keep braking. The message is surely to always make sure you CAN stop, by driving defensively. The only scenario that comes to mind where stopping isn’t an option, is where another vehicle is coming at speed towards you, on your side of the road, without warning and where contact is inevitable, even if you yourself did stop. Incidentally someone alluded to US driving, but some States’ driver education rightly advocate a 5 second gap and not our worrying 2 second ‘rule’.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (4)

I agree with both Matt and Idris. The instinctive response when you are following too close to stop is to swerve to ‘the empty lane’ on the motorway or to the verge on two-way roads.

I am now calling that evasive technique the “S-Curve to Safety”. The first half of that S-curve is instinctive but now you are headed to the guardrail or to the ditch. The second half involves locating a ‘safe hole’ and getting through it accurately. On two occasions in my many years of driving I was faced with such a situation and ‘got to the hole’ only because of my motorsport experience of “racing ‘round the plastic pylons”. I don’t believe there is any jurisdiction in the world which includes such ‘in extremis’ driving in their basic test for a driving license … but they all should have it as a stringent requirement!
Al Gullon, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Agree (4) | Disagree (3)

I'm surprised that this item is still running. In the 3rd post, Bob cited the 2-second rule. It works for me. But swerving should not be underestimated - consider what you do when an oncoming car crosses into your path, or misjudges an overtake.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (4) | Disagree (8)

Duncan is right, Bob's reliance on safe braking distance ignores that it can simply disappear, as happened to me. Someone coming the other way braked suddenly to a halt on seeing an Open Day at a country house, but could not turn across oncoming traffic. Three motorcycles behind braked hard and stopped, one near the centre line lost his balance and fell into my path.

Braking was impossible in the time available and if I done nothing my headlight would have hit his head. I swerved violently to my left - steering being instantly responsive - and missed him all but my wing mirror, which caused no injury. Braking is often not an option, e.g. a tyre bursts on a oncoming car, something falls off a lorry, a car door opens, a tree falls or (increasingly) a deep pothole looms. Learning to swerve safely can save your life and others'.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (8) | Disagree (8)

A film made with the very best of intentions, but what always worries me about this sort of venture is who has seen it, how it has been evaluated and what effect has it had?
Adrian Walsh, Director RoadSafe.

Agree (5) | Disagree (4)

Thank you for your kind comment Idris, I will return it sometime. However the mere fact that a swerve manoeuvre is necessary first indicates that the driver was too close to the obstacle in front and therefore the following driver wasn't in a safe enough following on position. It also means that even when a swerve manoeuvre is actuated it can and does in many circumstances lead to a full on skid, either by oversteer or understeer. Therefore all control of direction, speed, braking and steering is basically lost to the driver.

Whilst I would like to see every trainee driver as safe as possible I don’t think that at this moment in time they are required to be able to lose control of their any environment. So I stand by my previous statements that a distance rule should be instructed in a town scene under driver training.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (5) | Disagree (1)

For something as important as braking, you would have thought that the various government agencies would have worked out by now what was actually happening rather than what they think is happening.

Braking strategies are nothing whatever to do with distance, but instead are largely a function of time to collision and the sensation of G forces. Trying to teach a reliable braking strategy in terms of distance is a complete non starter as humans have no reliable distance measuring system other than that of stereopsis which is not much use over 9 metres.

Time and G forces are such easy factors for students to understand that it's a wonder they are not used more often for training.

Every driver has an innate appreciation of these factors and so has a built-in 'stop horizon' that utilises these factors to significant advantage. The rule is simply that if something happens beyond our stop horizon then we can bring the vehicle to a halt in a straight line without risk of collision. If however something happens within our stop horizon then we know that in order to avoid a collision we must swerve as braking on its own will be insufficient.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

Frankly, I am astonished and appalled that at least 7 people diaagree that steering out of trouble (aka swerving) can often be more effective than just braking. Would they let me know where they drive so that I can avoid sharing roads with them?

I am not of course claiming that braking is not important, it clearly is, and I normally allow more space ahead than most drivers, my point is that incessant emphasis on braking with barely a mention of avoidance is downright dangerous.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (2) | Disagree (9)

At last some semblence of common sense starts to creep into road safety. 30% of crashes apparently involved front to rear end shunts. Bob Craven is spot on the mark. In principle people could be prosecuted for not being able to stop in the distance they can see to be clear, and if they were that would send a massive ripple out to the general public to take responsibility for their own safety. Police driving schools used to teach a following distance of 3-4 seconds. I remember a former Devizes (police driving) instructor who used to say to his students, 'Whatever the circumstances could you stop the vehicle undramatically?' The key word is 'undramatically'. From the UK perspective the Stateside mentality of emergency evasive actions is a last minute act of desperation. Over here we would call it a lack of observation and planning.
Nigel Albright

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

The film was designed to show the distance it takes to stop and, as everyone here has picked up on, the importance of leaving enough space to stop safely.

Its intention is not to encourage anyone to swerve, but it is often an automatic response to swerve away from a danger, so by showing this it will hopefully get people to realise that it still takes a lot longer to stop than they think.

Also the highway code states the following:

Rule 126 - Stopping distances. Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear (nothing about on your side of the road – that’s advanced driving).
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (16) | Disagree (3)

Safe driving requires many different skills from low to high speeds, that need to be taught, practised and maintained. Ignoring them and basing safety only on low speeds and panic braking in a straight line is both stupid and dangerous.

Bob Craven (unusually) is also wrong as Bob Joynt says, on a vital aspect too often ignored by the anti-speed pro-baking lobby. Momentum and tyre grip ensure that braking is often a less effective or safe response than swerving, especially with ABS allowing them simultaneously.
No driver who fails always to be aware of gaps he could use in an emergency is safe, as those of us who drove in the 1950s and 1960 (and some even now) with drum/cable brakes and low grip tyres. Particularly useful on ice or when brakes fail too!
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (5) | Disagree (15)

I believe the point was made that driving too close to the vehicle in front could lead to excessivly harsh braking and possibly the need to swerve, (that being a natural consequence of being unable to stop in time). However if one was to practice the two second (or three second) rule then there would be no need to engage in such a practice.
Many of our roads in urban areas are cluttered with cars and other numerous obstacles and if driving close to another vehicle with the possibility that one may have to engage in braking and swerving should it stop, then finding that one has no room to either stop in time and swerve will unfortunately end in a collision.

I take your point of possibly mitigating the impact by swerving but, and I say but, it would not be necessary if people gave distance. Nowhere to my knowledge does it mention or encourage swerving in the Highway Code or any other DSA publication.
Bob Craven Lancs

Agree (5) | Disagree (0)

"If" the opening is available, swerving is much better than striking something; if clear avoidance is not possible then a glancing contact (dissipating forces) is much less damaging than impact (direct forces).

I think all drivers should be taught a safe swerving technique including when it is safe to do so. Then they are able to make their choice if/when needed. I have been teaching this for 30 years to all drivers.
Bob Joynt, Smiths Falls, Ontario Canada

Agree (13) | Disagree (2)

I kept this seperate because it involves a police officer who misquoted the edict: "To be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear."

The correct saying is: "To be able to stop ON YOUR SIDE OF THE ROAD, in the distance that you can see to be clear".

Its no use swerving into oncomimg traffic and therefore coming into contact with a vehicle coming the other way. That is just going to make matters worse and to my mind should not be a consideration.

Certainly on the motorway one should not swerve as one is likely to come into contact with a vehicle travelling the same way as oneself but in a lane that otherwise would not be affected.

Distance training or understanding is required. Education with, say, posters would be of value. I wouldn't make that video widely available as I would not advise anyone to swerve.
Bob Craven

Agree (5) | Disagree (10)