When was the last time you brushed up on the rules around UK speed limits?
of us think they’re fairly obvious, but do you know how fast you’re
allowed to go if you have to tow a trailer? Or drive a van? And how fast
can you go on motorways?
If you don’t know the ins and outs of the law, you could risk your safety and the safety of others, face an on-the-spot fine and penalty points for straying over the limit, or go to court, where you could be disqualified from driving. Remember, ignorance isn’t a defence.
Speed limits: the law
limits were first introduced in the UK in 1861 as part of the
Locomotives on Highways Act. This limited vehicles to 10mph, before the
1865 Locomotive Act reduced this to 4mph in the country and 2mph in the
Thankfully, things have moved on a bit since then and
today UK car speed limits are generally 30mph in urban areas, 60mph on
main single-carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageways and
There are exceptions, however, and many speed limits depend on the type of vehicle.
example, most vans are only allowed to travel at 60mph on dual
carriageways and 50mph on national-speed-limit single carriageway roads.
you break the speeding laws, not only do you risk your safety and the
safety of other drivers, you could face a fine and points, or
potentially be summonsed to court where you could even lose your
What are the UK speed limits for different roads
|Type of vehicle||Built-up areas mph||Single carriageways mph||Dual |
|Cars, motorcycles, *car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles||30||60||70||70|
|Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles when towing caravans or trailers||30||50||60||60|
|Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)||30||60||70||70|
|Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)||30||50||60||70|
|Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length)||30||50||60||70|
|Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length)||30||50||60||60|
|Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)||30||50||60||70 (60 if articulated or towing a trailer)|
|Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in England and Wales||30||50||60||60|
|Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonne maximum laden weight) in Scotland||30||40||50||60|
*What is a car-derived van?
vans are vans which are based on the same platform as cars, and are
typically designed to weigh no more than two tonnes when fully loaded.
usually look exactly the same as cars, but without rear windows or
seats. Popular examples include Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta vans.
these generally drive the same way as cars on which they’re based, they
are allowed to follow the same speed limits as standard cars.
careful: if you’re not sure whether a van you’re driving is car-derived,
check the log book (V5). The ‘body type’ section will tell you whether
it’s a car-derived van.
Most vans are not car-derived, and thus
subject to lower speed limits than cars. This includes Ford Transits,
including the smaller Transit Connect.
Variable speed limits
Variable speed limits are increasingly being used on so-called ‘smart motorways’ across the UK. These monitor traffic flow and can make adjustments to reduce congestion when required – for example, by operating the hard shoulder as a live traffic lane, or introducing a temporary speed limit when there’s congestion ahead.
This variable speed limit is
displayed on the gantries across motorways, and usually enforced by
average speed cameras behind the signs.
They can be introduced for
safety reasons, such as during roadworks or if there’s a stranded
vehicle ahead, or to slow down traffic and ease congestion further up
Variable speed limits are popular on the UK’s
busiest motorways, including the M25, M1 and M6. The penalty for
breaking a variable speed limit is the same as for breaking a fixed one.
Fixed speed limits
speed limits are the most common kind of speed limit. These are usually
identified by a number within a red circle on road signs entering the
speed limited area – such as a ‘30’ when entering an urban area.
20, 30, 40 or 50mph zones, the majority of UK roads are classed as
‘national speed limit’, denoted by a grey, circular sign with a single,
black, diagonal stripe through it.
For cars, ‘national
speed limit’ means a limit of 60mph on single carriageway roads and
70mph on dual carriageways and motorways.
Fixed speed limits are often enforced by fixed ‘Gatso’ speed cameras or temporary camera vans positioned in speeding hotspots.
The most serious speeding offences end up in court and could result in a hefty fine or even a driving ban.
Minimum speed limits
speed limits are rare in the UK, but they do exist in places where
going too slowly can cause increased congestion or high risk of a crash,
such as in tunnels.
They’re marked by a blue, circular sign
containing the minimum speed limit, while the end of a minimum speed
limit is signalled by the same sign with a red line through it.
there isn’t an official minimum speed limit on most motorways,
travelling too slowly can be considered dangerous and you might attract
the attention of the police.
In this case, you’d usually be let off after a verbal warning, but you could be prosecuted for careless driving.
20mph speed limits
councils are introducing 20mph speed limits in areas where traffic
regularly interacts with other vulnerable road users, such as children
These could be on small residential roads or near
schools, and are often enforced by traffic calming measures such as
speed bumps and chicanes to physically slow cars down.
Are speed limiters a legal requirement?
a legal requirement for speed limiters to be fitted to vehicles with
more than eight passenger seats, such as buses, coaches and limousines,
as well as goods vehicles with a maximum laden weight of more than 3.5
They usually work by restricting the fuel supply to the
engine when the vehicle reaches its maximum speed, and mean some
vehicles aren’t capable of reaching or breaking speed limits.
Many fleet operators also fit them in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions and improve fuel economy.
offers speed limiter technology on cars, through the Ford MyKey system.
Parents can program a key for their children that, when used, will
restrict the car to a pre-defined speed limit.
are also now offering manual speed limiters, which drivers can set
themselves. They’re a useful way to ensure you don’t unintentionally
break the limit in, for example, average speed zones.