A fundamental part of learning to drive is knowing what the speed limits are on the UK roads.
The limits are put in place to keep motorists, pedestrians and other road users safe and it is a legal requirement that you drive within those limits.
Speed limits first began to be introduced in the UK in 1901 and have continually been reviewed and tweaked ever since.
As vehicles have become quicker and more powerful, and roads more congested, limits have had to be changed in order to maintain safety on Britain’s roads.
Whether you’re just starting out as a learner driver, a newly qualified driver, or an experienced driver, it is vital that you’re aware of all of the speed limits that exist.
Breaking speed limits can result in prosecution if caught, with punishment ranging from points on your licence through to fines and even imprisonment if your driving causes an accident.
It’s also important to understand how speed limits should be used.
They are a limit; therefore, the highest speed that you can travel on that stretch of road.
This does not mean that you should always drive at that speed – only when it’s safe to do so.
In bad weather, for example, it may not be safe to travel at 40 mph in a 40 mph limit, and you may be at 30 mph or lower.
The same goes in heavy traffic – your speed will have to be adjusted to a safe level.
There are also problems when you drive too slowly – see our hints and tips section for more information.
So, arm yourself with the details and be aware of what speed limits are.
Not only will you need to know them to successfully get you through your driving test, but it will also keep you safe and on the right side of the law.
This guide has been written with the aim of giving you all of the information you need for driving safely and within the legal speed limits.
We will explain which speed limits exist and what they are as well as some hints and tips which highlight some speed-related scenarios you also need to be aware of.
While this isn’t strictly a step-by-step guide, we’re keeping it consistent with our other driving guides by keeping the structure the same.
Our step-by-step section will outline all of the speed limits which are in place.
Therefore, our guide is laid out in the following format:
In this section, we’re going to tell you which speed limits exist in the UK, where you should use them and how to interpret them.
It’s important to note that all of these are for cars only.
If you’re driving a different type of vehicle, or you are towing a caravan for example, then you should do research into what other restrictions may be in place.
Built-Up Areas – 30 mph:
Whenever you are driving in an urban, residential or built-up area, if no other speed limit signs are present, then the limit is 30 mph.
This will usually be signalled by signage informing you that this is the limit.
It’s also worth noting that many urban areas, particularly around schools, now enforce a 20 mph speed limit.
This will be indicated by signage.
Single Carriageways – 60 mph:
If you’re travelling along a single carriageway, usually outside of built-up or urban areas, the speed limit will be 60 mph unless otherwise stated.
This will often be indicated by the national speed limit sign.
Dual Carriageways – 70 mph:
Dual carriageways in the UK will be 70 mph if the national speed limit is in force.
Again, this may occasionally be overruled by signage indicating a lower speed limit.
Dual carriageways have two lanes of traffic travelling in each direction, usually with a central reservation or metal barrier running down the middle to separate the lanes.
They have the highest speed limit of any non-motorway type of road in the UK.
Motorways – 70 mph:
Motorways usually consist of three lanes of traffic in each direction but there will be examples where as few as two lanes or as many as 4 lanes go in each direction.
One quick way of recognising a motorway is that all signs will be on a blue background.
Motorways are very quick stretches of road and things such as stopping distances and vehicle safety are also of paramount importance.
It all comes down to safety – you can still be prosecuted for dangerous driving if you’re within the speed limits.
If you are still driving too quickly for the conditions, even if you’re within the limits of the road, you can still fall foul of the law.
Speed in isolation is not all that dangerous. Inappropriate speed is.
In a similar vein, driving too slow can also be classed as dangerous driving.
To better understand this example, think of driving along a 50 mph speed limit road at 30 mph.
You’re almost certainly going to cause tailbacks which will lead to frustrated drivers and motorists trying to perform potentially risky overtaking manoeuvres.
Similarly, driving too slow on a motorway can be dangerous as vehicles travelling at much higher speeds will suddenly be upon you and need to change lanes to overtake. This can be problematic and dangerous.
The speed limits we have covered in the step-by-step guide are the national speed limits.
When the national speed limit is indicated by a white circular sign with a black diagonal line through, they are the speed limits which are in force.
It’s important to know that these can be overruled in any particular area by signage on the road.
Motorways, for example, are an area where speed limits are under review.
Many UK motorways are now being upgraded to smart motorways on which the speed limit changes depending on volume of traffic.
This information will be displayed on digital signage above each lane of the motorway.
These variable speed limits supersede the national speed limit when in force.
While speed limits are in place to keep you safe, driving at a safe speed that does not go above the speed limit should be your top priority.
Be prepared to change your speed depending on factors such as the traffic, weather and any other external influences.
These could include anything from pedestrians to horse riders.
If you’re ever in doubt as to what the speed limit is, use the national speed limits as a guide.
For example, if you’re in a heavily built-up area, assume the speed limit is 20 mph.