In this page we will:

  • Explain why speed is so important and how you can make sure you drive at a safe pace
  • Explain the dangers of driver distraction and share how to keep your focus on the road

This is step 7 of the Brake Roadmap to safe and healthy journeys, in partnership with Direct Line and Green Flag, helping you to learn about, and make, safe and healthy journey choices.

Human error is said to be a factor in 9 out of 10 road crashes, so learning to drive or ride safely is crucial to protecting yourself, and others.


Driving slowly is one of the most important things drivers can do to protect themselves and others. That means staying well within limits, slowing down to 20mph around homes, schools and shops, slowing right down for bends, brows and bad weather, and avoiding overtaking.

It’s essential to safe and considerate driving because slowing down gives you much more time to react to people and hazards around you, and avoid hitting someone or something. Slowing down helps make our roads and communities safer, greener, nicer places, and can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Limits are limits, not targets

Stay well under limits, rather than hovering around them. Look out for signs, including temporary limits, and obey them, regularly glancing at your speedo. Know which limits are usually in place on different roads (see the Highway Code) and if unsure, err on the side of caution and slow down. It will help you stay safe and avoid fines and penalty points.

Keep at least a two-second gap (four in the wet) behind the vehicle in front on any road, but especially at higher speeds – it’s your braking space in a crisis.

Speed in communities Down arrow icon to open accordion

Sometimes the speed limit is too fast for safety. The UK’s default limit in built-up areas is 30mph, although more and more local authorities are implementing 20mph limits across towns, cities and villages to protect people on foot and bike.

Drivers can make a big difference now by committing to slow down in all communities: travelling at or below 20mph around homes, schools and shops, even where the limit is still 30mph. You’ll help to make streets and communities safer, greener, more pleasant places.

At 20mph, your stopping distance is about half that at 30mph, so choosing 20mph makes a big difference to safety, but it won’t be a big inconvenience. Your journeys should be smoother and use less fuel, and your journey times are unlikely to be significantly longer. Driving at 20mph in communities gives you time to react in an emergency, such as if a child runs out.

Learn more about speed in communities here.

Speed on rural roads Down arrow icon to open accordion

Rural roads are often bendy and narrow with poor visibility and hidden junctions. Even if you know the road well, you never know what’s round the corner. The majority of driver and passenger deaths happen on rural roads, often due to drivers taking bends too fast, overtaking, or not being able to react to unexpected hazards.

That’s why slowing down on rural roads is crucial. The derestricted limit (60mph for cars and vans) is generally far too fast for safety – so stay well beneath this and slow right down for bends, brows, dips and junctions, and in bad weather. You should be able to come to a stop within the space you can see.

Slowing down on rural roads also helps people to enjoy the countryside, and people in rural communities to get about, by being able to cycle, walk and horse-ride without being endangered. Rural roads are shared – not drivers’ private race tracks.

Learn more about rural roads here.

Speed in bad weather Down arrow icon to open accordion

Slowing down – or avoiding driving at all if you can – is crucial to staying safe in bad weather. Driving in wet or icy conditions significantly increases your stopping distances, while fog and mist make it far harder to react to hazards.

Learn more about bad weather driving, including our ABC guide, here.

Overtaking Down arrow icon to open accordion

Overtaking on single carriageways is incredibly risky and should be avoided. It is impossible to accurately judge the speed of approaching traffic, or the length of empty road in front of you, and when overtaking this can be fatal. The gap between you and oncoming traffic disappears surprisingly fast. If you and an oncoming vehicle are both driving at 60mph, the gap between you is closing at 120mph, or 60 metres a second. So a small error of judgement can all too easily result in tragedy and multiple deaths.

That’s why it isn’t worth the risk. Often overtaking makes little difference to your arrival time, but could mean you and someone else never arriving at all. So never overtake on single carriageways unless absolutely essential, such as because you need to pass a stationary or extremely slow moving vehicle. Only then do so if certain there’s enough space to get past without speeding and with no risk of someone coming the other way. Otherwise just hang back and relax.

No excuses Down arrow icon to open accordion

Some drivers use all sorts of excuses for speeding: they don’t notice their speed creeping up, they feel pressured by other drivers, they’re in a rush, or think they can handle it because of their fast reaction times and good brakes. The fact is, slowing down is essential to safe driving, no matter who you are or what you’re driving. Studies have proven the link between speed and safety: reducing average speeds leads to fewer crashes and casualties, and if you speed, you’re far more likely to crash.

The laws of physics mean that going even a bit faster makes a big difference to your stopping distance and therefore your ability to react and stop. For example, increasing your speed by 25%, from 40mph to 50mph, increases your stopping distance by 47%, from 36m to 53m. Learn more about stopping distances here.

In short, slowing down is vital to safety, especially in protecting our most vulnerable road users like children, and enabling people to walk and cycle without fearing for their lives. And it’s not a big ask. All drivers should be able to keep an eye on their speed, and protecting people should always be the priority over getting to your destination a few minutes faster.


How much do you know about stopping distances?

Test your knowledge with our stopping distances calculator.

For a full-screen version (opens in new window), click here.

Watch a short animation to find out why speed matters for safe and healthy journeys and why it is important we drive at safe and appropriate speeds whatever road we're using.



Driving is one of the most complicated and risky tasks many of us do on a regular basis. It requires our full concentration, and both our hands, to drive safely.

If you think you can multi-task at the wheel, you’re kidding yourself and putting people in danger. If you use a mobile phone, eat, fiddle with a stereo, do your make up, or do anything else that takes your eyes and mind off the road or your hands off the wheel, you’re significantly increasing your chances of being involved in a crash.

Mobile phones Down arrow icon to open accordion

More and more people own smart phones, and some find it hard to switch off, even for a minute. But you should never use your phone at the wheel.

Making or taking calls, texting, using the internet or checking social media while driving is incredibly risky. All these things are a bit like drink-driving: they slow your reaction times and hinder your control, and could easily cost you or someone else their life. Research shows if you are on the phone when driving your reactions are 50% slower and your crash risk is four times higher than normal.

This applies to hands-free kits too. Despite it currently being legal in the UK to make or take calls using a hands-free kit while driving, research proves it’s not a safe option. Hands-free kits are almost as risky as holding the phone to your ear, because it’s the distraction of the conversation that’s the main danger.

The only way to avoid dangerous distraction from your phone is to switch it to silent, and put it out of sight and reach when you're driving.

On long journeys, stop for breaks every two hours, and check your messages then. If you need to work or keep in contact on a long journey, take public transport instead, which is safer, better for the environment and means you can get work done.

You can also help other drivers to stay safe by refusing to speak to someone on the phone while they’re driving. If someone picks up while they’re driving, end the call as quickly as you can. It could save their life.

Learn more about mobile phone use behind the wheel here.

Sat-navs Down arrow icon to open accordion

If you use a sat-nav, programme it before starting your journey and never while driving. Fiddling with the sat-nav will take your eyes and mind off the road with potentially lethal consequences.

Remember, it's there to help you keep focused on driving rather than worry about directions, but it's not there to make all the decisions for you. You still need to look at signs, particularly those warning of hazards or speed limits, and watch for people and hazards.

Eating at the wheel Down arrow icon to open accordion

Eating and drinking on the move might seem harmless but research shows it impacts on your ability to react quickly. Eating at the wheel often means taking your eyes, hands and mind off the road, and it only takes a small lapse in concentration for a devastating crash to occur. Eating should be a pleasure, so take the time out to savour your meals when you're not driving.