The road speed limits in the United Kingdom define the maximum legal speed for a specific class of vehicle on a specific stretch of road. The default speed limit is 30mph (48kph). This means that if you don’t see a sign saying otherwise, the limit is 30mph. A limit is the maximum speed you are allowed to drive on that road in good conditions. While there is a small tolerance over the limit through practicality, this is at the discretion of police and you are technically breaking the law if you drive exceeding the limit.
There are a large number of variations of our speed limit depending on what type of vehicle you are driving, as shown in the following table.
National speed limits
|Type of vehicle||Built-up areas mph(km/h)||Single carriagewaysmph (km/h)||Dual carriagewaysmph (km/h)||Motorways mph(km/h)|
|Cars and vehicles (including dual-purpose vehicles)||30 (48)||60 (96)||70 (112)||70 (112)|
|Car-derived vans up to 2 tonnes maximum laden weight||30 (48)||60 (96)||70 (112)||70 (112)|
|Cars towing caravans or trailers (including car-derived vans and motorcycles)||30 (48)||50 (80)||60 (96)||60 (96)|
|Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)||30 (48)||60 (96)||70 (112)||70 (112)|
|Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight)||30 (48)||50 (80)||60 (96)||70 (112)|
|Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length)||30 (48)||50 (80)||60 (96)||70 (112)|
|Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length)||30 (48)||50 (80)||60 (96)||60 (96)|
|Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)||30 (48)||50 (80)||60 (96)||70 (112)
60 (96) if articulated or towing a trailer
|Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)||30 (48)||40 (64)||50 (80)||60 (96)|
Goods vehicle classifications
Vans and ‘car-derived’ vans
Most vans are under 7.5 tonnes laden (loaded) weight and must follow the speed limits for goods vehicles of the same weight. This includes Ford Transit vans.
‘Car-derived’ vans weigh no more than 2 tonnes when loaded and are goods vehicles based on car designs, such as a Ford Fiesta van or Vauxhall Astra van. Check your log book under ‘body type’ if you’re not sure.
Motorhomes or motor caravans are classed as goods vehicles if they:
- carry goods for exhibition and sale
- are used as a workshop
- are used for storage
Locally set speed limits
Local councils can set their own speed limits, which must be clearly signed. These include on roads which might have frequent dangers such as sharp corners or poor visibility, or in school zones.
You can request a speed limit change by contacting your local council. A Traffic Regulation Order must be made for any speed limit to be adjusted, and this involves a process of consultation and public advertisement. It usually takes nine months to complete. Temporary speed limits may be set in areas where there are roadworks, a temporary danger has manifested itself or there is a special event. Temporary speed limits don’t require any legislative change.
Variable speed limits
Variable speed limits are used to help control traffic flows (e.g. in rush hour) and when a temporary danger might be present. If the sign is a red circle with a white number it is an enforceable limit.
Minimum speed limits
A minimum speed limit is rarely used in the UK. One example is the Mersey tunnel. You will see a circular blue sign with white numbers at the start of the limit and a similar sign with a red diagonal line through it at the end of the limit.
Any vehicles with more than 8 passenger seats or goods vehicles with a maximum laden weight of more than 3.5 tonnes must have a speed limiter fitted.
Speed limits vs traffic calming
Both speed limits and traffic calming measures are used to control the speed of vehicles. A speed limit is a legislative measure while traffic calming is a physical measure. Traffic calming measures are things like sleeping policemen and chicanes. Where it is considered too expensive to have large scale traffic calming, the speed limit might be lowered.
Advisory speed limits
An advisory speed limit is a suggested maximum speed limit for a corner when taken by a car or motorbike in dry weather. Lorries and buses may need to drive more slowly around the corner. For example, a corner might be signposted ‘Max Speed 30’ with a red triangle direction arrow above to show which way the corner goes. An advisory speed limit is a suggestion not a legislative limit. Other advisory speed limits might be illuminated signs above gantries. Unless the sign is a red circle with a white number, these are advisory.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.