No matter where you are on the UK’s public roads, as a motorist you’re bound by law to only accelerate up to a certain speed. Speed limits are omnipresent, imposed for our safety as drivers and our advice is to stick to them, but how much do you know about the UK’s speed limits?
The signs are unmissable, and we strongly recommend keeping on the ride side of the law to avoid a hefty fine or worse yet, a short trip to the courthouse. But despite their ubiquity, there’s plenty you still may not know about our speed limits.
On this page, we’ll explain exactly what our speed limits mean to you as a driver, why we need them and what will happen if you’re caught driving faster than legally allowed.
• Welsh default speed limit to be reduced to 20 mph
The Welsh government has announced that the default speed limit on restricted roads in Wales will be reduced to 20mph from 17 September 2023.
The new speed limit has been called upon to reduce the number of collisions and other traffic-related injuries in populated areas, all while incentivising residents to walk or cycle around town rather than drive.
Restricted roads are commonly found within urban or residential areas with street lights placed around 200 yards apart.
Not all roads with 30mph speed limits will reduce to 20mph, as Local Authorities will consider with their communities which roads should remain at 30mph. If you’d like to find out more about the new legislation, head over to the government website for more information.
If you’d like to find out whether your local restricted roads will be affected by the new speed limit, you can do so on the interactive data map.
Why do we have speed limits?
Speed limits are imposed for the safety and security of pedestrians and motorists alike. Without them, the UK’s roads would become a high-octane melee of racers, chancers and late workers driving at perilous speeds.
Limits are imposed to bring uniformity, order, and a higher degree of safety to our roads so we can drive confidently and at peace alongside each other.
How do I know what the speed limit is on any given road?
Speed limits are signposted on just about every stretch of road. Upon leaving a residential area for the countryside, you’ll likely encounter the national speed limit sign – a white circle with a black line through the middle.
This sign indicates the start of an NSL stretch of road, either 60mph on a single-lane road or 70mph on a dual carriageway or motorway for cars, motorbikes and vans with a fully loaded weight of no more than two tonnes.
All other speed limit signs present numerical values that indicate how fast motorists are allowed to drive.
Other heavier vehicles or cars with trailers have lower speed limits. For example, regular cars towing caravans or trailers are limited to 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways. For more information on speed limits for different vehicles, check out what the government has to say.
If in doubt around residential areas – especially if the roads have street lights – stick to 30mph.
Since July 2022, it’s been a legal requirement in the UK for all new cars to feature speed limiter systems. By using some of the sensors found in the cruise control system, onboard computers can now detect when the car is exceeding the speed limit, and even alert the driver either audibly or visually to slow down.
What happens if I break the speed limit?
Breaking the speed limit is a criminal offence and should be avoided at all costs. Police forces usually offer some leniency if you break the limit by 10% plus two miles an hour, but this shouldn’t be relied on. If you’re caught breaking the speed limit, you will receive a penalty, the severity of which will depend on how much you exceeded the limit by.
The minimum penalty for speeding is a £100 fine and 3 penalty points on your license. Don’t forget, if you accumulate 12 or more penalty points on your license over a three year period, you could be disqualified from driving. For more information on speeding penalties, be sure to check the government website. If you think you’ve been wrongly penalised, you can try appealing the fine.
A radar detector will alert you to when your speed is being monitored by a police officer with a radar gun. While these gadgets can’t jam the signal, they can at least detect when a laser is being pointed at you.
What happens if I’m caught speeding by a speed camera?
If a car is caught breaking the speed limit by a speed camera, the registered keeper will receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) along with a Section 172 notice. The latter must be returned to the police within 28 days to inform them of who was driving the car. Once this is complete, you’ll receive a Fixed Penalty Notice or a letter telling you to go to court.