What is a car's stopping distance for pedestrians?

You're about to cross the street, but you wonder if the cars will be able to stop in time to avoid striking you. Whether you have the right of way or not, you do not want to put yourself in danger. What sort of stopping distance does a driver typically need to avoid hitting you?

If the car is traveling 35 mph -- a typical speed limit in cities and urban areas -- the vehicle needs about 138 feet to stop. This means that the driver needs to see you about 3.6 seconds before impact in order to hit the brakes and stop in time.

Now, these numbers assume that the driver is traveling on a road with good driving conditions and that there is no brake lag in the driver's ability to stop  (the time it takes for the driver to actually push the pedal down).  Other factors that can increase the time and stopping distance include:

  • The weight of the vehicle
  • Whether the road is wet
  • The slope of the terrain
  • The driver's reaction time

The aforementioned calculation for stopping to avoid striking you also assumes that the driver is paying attention and can react as soon as you enter his/her field of vision. In reality, this often does not happen. A drunk driver may have greatly slowed reaction times. A drowsy driver may not respond in time to avert disaster. A driver distracted by texting or talking on a cell phone may not even see you until the car hits you, and at no reduced speed due to no braking. 

It is important to understand the needed stopping distance to avoid pedestrian accidents because drivers sometimes insist they did not have time to stop and could not avoid the accident. Knowing how much space they really needed helps you determine whether you can safely proceed. You may decide to look into your legal options if you are injured in an auto-pedestrian collision.

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