The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

What a one-second advantage can mean to you 

Everybody wants the gift of more time, but how valuable could just one measly, crummy second be to you?  When it comes to using your brakes on the highway, it could mean – well, a whole lot more than you might imagine. 

Studies have shown that it takes the average driver from one-half to three-quarters of a second to perceive a need to hit the brakes, and another three-quarters of a second to move your foot from the gas to the brake pedal.  Everybody’s reaction times are different, but that’s up to a full one-and-a-half seconds between when you first start to realize you’re in trouble and before you even start to slow down.

This is fundamental – there’s no changing human physiology.  But let’s look how that affects your ability to stop your car. 

The table below shows the distances it takes an average car to come to a stop on dry pavement from different speeds, including the distance traveled for just one second of perception and reaction time.

Speed Perception/Reaction Distance Braking Distance Overal Stopping Distance Equal to Approx Number of Car Lengths (@15 feet)
30 mph 44 feet 45 feet 89 feet 6
40 mph 59 feet 80 feet 139 feet 9
50 mph 73 feet 125 feet 198 feet 14
60 mph 88 feet 180 feet 268 feet 18
70 mph 103 feet 245 feet 348 feet 23
80mph 117 feet 320 feet 439 feet 29

Notice that when you double your speed – say, from 30 mph to 60, or 40 to 80 – your total stopping distance more than doubles:  it triples!

When it comes to braking, always follow these three key defensive driving principles: 

  • Keep your speed down.  The slower you drive, the shorter your stopping distance.
  • Look far ahead to increase your warning time.   By always looking as far down the road as you can, you’ll see emerging hazards and the brake lights of cars ahead of you sooner.
  • Move your foot early.  By taking your foot off the gas and pressing on the brake pedal lightly at the first sign that you need to slow down, you get a jump on your reaction time, and you protect your backside by giving drivers behind you an earlier warning sign.

 A classic study conducted in the 1980s found that 90 percent of all accidents could have been avoided if the driver had reacted just one second earlier.  Using these tips for safe braking might just give you the one-second advantage you need.

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