Theory

UK speed limits explained

5 min read • Oct 25, 2018
speed-limits

Speed limits differ depending on what kind of road you’re on, and there may well be long stretches of road with different speed limits to contend with. Knowing what the speed limit is on the road that you’re driving on is essential, so we’ve created a guide to make sure you know all about UK speed limits.

Determining the speed limit

You will be able to determine what the speed limit is by looking out for speed limit signs along the road that you’re driving on. Speed limit signs will be circular (giving an order) and will show a number to indicate what the speed limit is.

Speed limit signs will display the limit for the stretch of road you’re driving on, and they are used to show all speed limits up to 60 mph. A 60 mph speed limit is symbolised by a national speed limit sign. You will usually find national speed limit signs on country roads, so take a look at our guide to driving on rural roads for some tips on driving at a safe speed on country roads.

Our guide to road signs will help you make sense of what each road sign means.

30mph speed limits in residential areas

Generally, the speed limit in towns, cities and residential areas will be 30mph, but there might not be speed limit signs to indicate this. If you’re driving in a built up area and there aren’t any speed limit signs, you should assume that the speed limit is 30mph unless otherwise signposted.

Authorities don’t place repeater 30mph speed limit signs along roads with street lights because of the huge extra cost this would entail. The highway code therefore advises that you should use lampposts as an indication that the speed limit is 30mph, unless speed limit signs state otherwise.

Remember, some residential roads will also have a 20mph limit, but if this is the case, it will be clearly signposted.

National speed limits

Main roads, like A roads, dual carriagways and motorways, have national speed limits which apply unless there are signs stating otherwise.

  • A roads: A roads are main fast single or dual carriageway roads. If the road is single lane, the national speed limit will be 60mph.
  • Dual carriageways: Dual carriageways are also A roads, but they have a speed limit of 70mph. Some dual carriageways, or sections of dual carriageways, will have lower speed limits, but this will be clearly signposted.
  • Motorways: The speed limit on motorways is also 70mph. Again, some motorways, or certain stretches of motorway, might have lower speed limits, but this will be clearly signposted.

Temporary speed limits

Temporary speed limits are put in place on main roads in certain situations. If, for example, there is heavy traffic or road works on a motorway or dual carriageway, a temporary speed limit might be put in place.

You will be able to see whether there is a temporary speed limit and what it is because of illuminated or temporary signs above or at the side of the carriageway.

You must adhere to temporary speed limits; they’re put in place to control the flow of traffic for the safety of you, other road users and road workers.

What happens if I’m caught speeding?

Remember, you can still get penalty points on your provisional driving licence as a learner driver. Speeding is an offence which could – as the minimum penalty – land you with a £100 fine and three penalty points.

If you receive 6 or more penalty points on your driving licence within the first two years of being a qualified driver you will have your licence revoked.

Find out more about penalty points in our learner drivers’ guide to driving licence points.

A speed limit is a limit, not a target

Remember a speed limit is not a target, and there will be many cases where it’s not safe to drive at the limit. On country roads, for example, the speed limit might be 60 mph, but that doesn’t mean you should drive at that speed. You’ll need to assess what speed is safe for the road that you’re driving on, taking into account the road and weather conditions.

Image via Albert Bridge.

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