Know your speed limits
In the UK, all public roads have speed limits which road users mustn’t exceed. The limit is a maximum which varies depending on the type of road, and what vehicle you’re driving.
Here we’re going to assume you mostly want to know about speed limits for cars. Let’s go!
First of all – why do we have speed limits?
Safety, mainly. Going over the speed limit can put you and others in danger.
This is why it’s treated seriously by the police. If you’re caught exceeding the limit, you could receive a fine, penalty points on your licence – or disqualification if it’s particularly bad.
There are other factors. You might notice stretches of road which limit the speed to try to lessen air pollution.
For more on this, check out our guide to eco-friendly driving.
What’s the speed limit in the UK?
As mentioned, it can vary. But essentially, if you’re driving a car (and not towing a caravan or trailer), the speed limits are:
Built-up areas: 30mph
Single carriageways: 60mph
Dual carriageways: 70mph
You can see a full summary of speed limits by vehicle on GOV.UK.
And different sections of road may have variable limits too. This is why it’s important to always keep an eye on the road signs.
Did you know? It’s commonly thought that the Autobahn in Germany has no speed limit. But it’s only actually about an eighth of roads in the Autobahn network where the speed is de-restricted.
What’s the national speed limit?
This is the sign for a national speed limit road. When you see this, the limit is usually 70mph on dual carriageways or motorways, or 60mph on single carriageways.
On these roads, the limits may be enforced by fixed speed cameras. There’s also the risk of being caught in speeding hotspots by temporary camera vans. And there’s also being pulled over by police vehicles.
If you haven’t spied any speed limit signs, it’s best not to assume you’re on a national speed limit road.
A common example is dual carriageways in built-up areas. These are likely to have a 30mph speed limit, rather than 70mph. If the road has street lights, then the speed limit will be 30mph – unless road signs say otherwise(1).
Fixed speed limits
These signs show the fixed speed limit for the section of road.
In urban areas, it’s pretty common to see ‘30’ signs. While this is the national speed limit for built-up areas, you’ll almost always see a ‘30’ sign rather than the national speed limit sign.
Areas with fixed speed limits are usually 20, 30, 40 or 50mph. And they may be enforced by speed cameras, or temporary vans.
Variable speed limits
You tend to find variable speed limits on motorways – particularly on the growing number of smart motorways. These aim to ease congestion by monitoring traffic flow, and adjusting speed limits or opening up lanes. They’re also used as a safety feature, particularly if there’s a hazard on the motorway up ahead.
There are usually numerous speed cameras on these stretches of road. There might also be an average speed limit in place.
Local speed limits
Areas with local speed limits usually have slower traffic, which are down to the local council. These are meant to protect vulnerable road users, such as cyclists or children. This is why you often find them near schools, with a limit of generally 20mph.
These zones can often have traffic-calming measures, like speed bumps.
Councils also sometimes apply 50mph speed limits on stretches of road with sharp bends, rather than 60mph.
What does the law say about speed limits?
Speed limits are pretty strictly enforced. And there aren’t really any excuses or exceptions for breaking them.
Being caught speeding could land you a minimum fine of £100, and 3 penalty points on your licence. And if you get 12 points on your licence, it’s game over.
The fines and points depend on how badly you’ve broken the speed limit. At the top end, you could be disqualified straight away.
If you’re caught going a little over the speed limit, you may be given the option of going to a speed awareness course. They last for around three hours, and cost up to £95 depending on the area(2). If you agree to go, you won’t receive a motoring conviction or points on your licence.
In any case, it’s always best to think of speed limits as an absolute maximum. Rule 146 of The Highway Code states that you should adapt your driving to the type of road and conditions. It then says:
“Do not treat speed limits as a target. It is often not appropriate or safe to drive at the maximum speed limit”
Respecting the speed limit will ultimately make you a safer driver, which could lead to lower car insurance prices.
Ace your driving score: Watch your speed
When using the Driverly app, you’ll be scored on your speed. Driving at a speed appropriate to the roads and sticking to the speed limit will keep your squirrel calm, and earn you a better driving score! So cool those boots 😎