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Legal guide to UK motoring, sections for law enforcement, Driver licensing, learner and new drivers, buying and selling, speeding fines, owning a vehicle, wheel clamping, traffic information.
          Speed: Know your limits


UK Speed Limits
Different types of vehicles have to obey different speed limits on particular types of road. It is the driverís responsibility to ensure that they know the correct speed limit for their vehicle at all times.

The speed limit table below explains the different speed limits that apply to different vehicles. This can also be found in the Highway Code.
KNOW YOUR SPEED LIMITS Built up area (Street lit) Single carriage Dual Carriage Motorways
Type of vehicle mph mph mph mph
Cars & motorcycles
(including car derived vans up to 2 tonnes maximum laden weight)
30 60 70 70
Cars towing caravans or trailers
(including car derived vans and motorcycles)
30 50 60 60
Buses and coaches
(not exceeding 12 metres in overall length)
30 50 60 70
Goods vehicles
(not exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)
30 50 60 70*
60 if articulated
or towing a trailer
Goods vehicles
(exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)
30 40 50 60

Who has responsibility for speed limits?

A central body called the Highways Agency sets speed limits on the motorway and trunk road network. The Government provides advice to traffic authorities (County, District and Borough Councils, but not Parish Councils) on the setting of local speed limits. It is for those authorities to decide what is the most appropriate speed limit for their roads based upon local considerations and circumstances. This would usually reflect factors such as accident history, traffic flows, road traffic mix, levels of adjacent development and road geometry. They can set speed limits from 20mph to 70mph inclusive.

Speed Limits at Roadworks

Speed limits are often lowered at roadworks.There are valid reasons for doing this.The safety of those dedicated to repairing our road network is paramount and therefore vehicle speeds will need to be lowered where workmen are likely to be present. In addition, the carriageway will often be narrowed to allow work to progress. Such narrowing will inevitably mean it is appropriate to reduce vehicle speeds. Lower speed limits help to achieve this.

Dual Carriageways

A dual carriageway is a road that is separated by a central reservation. A central reservation is anything other than a pedestrian refuge that separates vehicles going in one direction from vehicles going in the other direction. It should be noted that although it is more usual to have two or more lanes in each direction, the number of lanes is not specified, i.e. it is the presence of a central reservation rather than the number of lanes that determines whether or not a road is a dual carriageway.

Different Speed Limits and how to recognise them

20mph Speed Limit
The 20mph speed limit is predominately used in urban areas. Commonly you will see them in town centres, high streets, residential roads and in the vicinity of schools. The aim of this limit is to reduce vehicle speeds to allow for the presence of vulnerable road users - cyclists, children and the elderly. More often than not a 20mph speed limit will come in the form of a ?zone?. A zone will contain traffic calming features, usually road humps, that force drivers to reduce their speed to around 20mph. Research on the effectiveness of these zones has shown that casualties can fall by up to 70% where they have been introduced.

30mph Speed Limit
The 30mph speed limit is predominately used in urban areas (and more recently in many villages) and usually is indicated by the presence of a system of street lights. The presence of street lights is the way we recognise this speed limit and it is the reason why you do not see, apart from where the limit starts, 30mph speed limit signs. Some believe this to be an odd way of indicating a speed limit, but really it is simple. If there are street lights and no signs to the contrary a 30mph speed limit is in force.

There are a number of unlit roads where a 30mph speed limit applies. In these circumstances the traffic authority must place 30mph repeater signs.

40mph and 50mph
These two speed limits were introduced in the 1970s and are predominately used in non-built up areas or in built up areas where a higher speed is both safe and appropriate. In addition to signing the beginning of the speed limit, traffic authorities must also place speed limit repeater signs at regular intervals along the length of road being enforced.The driver should therefore be in no doubt of what the speed limit is for the road being driven on.

The National Speed Limit
The national speed limit is indicated by a round sign showing a white background with a diagonal black stripe across it. For the majority of vehicles it means 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageway roads (as detailed above, some vehicles are restricted to lower speed limits).

This speed limit works on the same principle as the 30mph speed limit in that it is not signed apart from where the speed limit starts. It is predominately used along the rural road network. Again, recognising it is simple: where there are no street lights and no signs to the contrary, the national speed limit is in force. The speed limit on a motorway is 70mph unless otherwise indicated.

But do speed limits make sense?

Most people believe in the need for there to be speed limits, but who decides? The system may not be perfect but it is not arbitrary. Detailed guidance on setting speed limits is provided to all traffic authorities. Their Highway Engineers and Road Safety Officers using their knowledge and experience will apply the guidance. They will also consult the police who have the task of enforcing speed limits. This ensures the limits are set appropriately.

Learn how police enforce speed limits by reading our summary of the ACPO Speed Enforcement Guidelines for Police Forces.

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