Do you know your van stopping distances?

As a courier driver, it’s important that you’re prepared for potential hazards on the road that will force you to take action, fast.
In many cases, spotting a hazard ahead will lead you to bring your van to a complete stop – either steadily or very quickly. But are you aware of how long it would take to stop in an emergency?

It’s longer than you may think – and knowing the answer will help to keep you safe as you’re delivering customers’ goods.
Before we take a look at van stopping distances, is your cover due for renewal soon? Here at the Insurance Factory, we understand that your customers expect you to deliver their goods safely and on time, whatever the weather or time of day.
That’s why, when you take out courier insurance through us, we’ll make sure we understand the unique needs of your business before arranging a policy to suit.


So, what exactly is stopping distance?

Some people use the phrases ‘stopping distance’ and ‘braking distance’ interchangeably, but they actually mean different things.
As the Van WIse Group explains, braking distance is the length a vehicle travels until it comes to a complete stop once the brakes have been applied. Stopping distances, on the other hand, factor in what’s known as ‘thinking time’, i.e. the time it takes for the driver to respond to a hazard and put their foot on the brake.
Thinking time plays a huge part in stopping distances. If you’re travelling at 70mph, for instance, it’s possible that you could cover the length of four cars before you even put your foot on the brakes.
The Highway Code has created a table of stopping distances for the average family car, but for a van you can expect the distances to be longer. That’s because vans are larger and heavier, and this added weight means the vehicle takes more time to come to a complete stop.
Load weight is also extremely important. If your van is packed full of parcels at the start of your working day, it will take much longer to stop than if you were responding to a hazard at the end of your shift, with an empty van.
A silver van travelling at speed on a country road
To give you a general idea though, here’s the Highway Code table of stopping distances:
Speed Thinking distance Braking distance Total
20mph 6m 6m 12m
30mph 9m 14m 23m
40mph 12m 24m 36m
50mph 15m 38m 53m
60mph 18m 55m 73m
70mph 21m 75m 96m

Payload and braking distances

When it comes to load affecting a van braking distances, tests carried out by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles uncovered that the distance can increase by up to 36% at 30mph, when the van is carrying a 500kg payload.
The survey, shared by Commercial Fleet, coincided with another report from the company which showed that half of van drivers were unaware that heavy loads affect braking distances.
The report explained how the majority of vans carry up to half a tonne on a daily basis, which can increase the time it takes to stop by 36% – the equivalent to an extra five metres if the van was travelling at 60mph.
Carl zu Dohna, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles director, said that the Highway Code’s table doesn’t take into account a van’s payload, so in reality stopping distances could be much greater for a full van.
So, as a courier, you need to understand that while these stopping distances are good as a general guide, they could be much longer especially if your van is carrying a full load. The key? Always be alert so that you can anticipate hazards and react with plenty of time.


What other factors influence stopping distance?

A rain covered windscreen on a wet day in traffic
Of course, there are a number of other factors that come into play when it comes to stopping distances. These include:



It can take you twice as long to stop on a wet road, while stopping distances on snowy or icy roads can increase tenfold.

Then if it’s foggy or dark, you might not be able to anticipate a hazard as quickly as if it were a clear and bright day. Staying safe involves adjusting your driving to suit the conditions and always being aware of what’s happening ahead of you.



Worn, damaged and/or under-inflated tyres will all negatively impact braking distances.

Premium-brand tyres may also perform better than budget options. Quality tyres really are a must for couriers who spend so long on the road each day, and you must carry out regular checks to ensure they are in good working order – ideally once a week.
You should really consider switching to a set of specialist winter tyres in the colder months. These work best in temperatures of below 7°C and thanks to their tread pattern and materials, will help to reduce stopping distances in the cold.



Brakes have a pivotal role to play in keeping you safe on the road, so it’s essential that they’re in good condition at all times.

If your van has ABS, this won’t significantly cut down braking distances and in fact, it could make them longer if you were driving on gravel or snow.

But having ABS will mean you have better control and can steer as you brake.

A brake disc on a car thats on a ramp

You – the driver

There are many factors that could affect your reaction – or thinking – time and for that to have an effect on stopping distances. These include:

  • Tiredness. Lack of sleep has a huge impact on a driver’s attention, awareness and reaction times. Make sure you take regular breaks every couple of hours on the road, even if it’s just for five minutes at a time.
  • Distractions. Phones, sat-navs and loud music are all things that could take your attention away from the road. Of course, holding a phone while driving is against the law, but even speaking hands-free could distract you from driving.
  • Alcohol and drugs. These can significantly impact your reaction times and risk the safety of you and others on the road. If you’ve been prescribed over-the-counter medication, this could also have an effect on your driving – make sure you seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Now you’re more clued up on van stopping distances, it’s time to protect your van and business with courier insurance arranged through the Insurance Factory.
Get a quote today!