Navigating the various UK speed limits can be daunting for any new driver. Yet, it’s an essential aspect of life on the road that involves penalties if speed limits are not adhered to.

This article aims to clarify the different types of speeding limits in the UK to help you navigate the roads safely and responsibly.

UK speed limits

Main Types Of Speed Limits In the UK

National Speed Limits

National speed limits in the UK are signed with a white circle with a black diagonal line running through it. It signifies the maximum speed under ideal weather conditions.

Upon seeing this sign, remember that the speed limit depends on the road type and vehicle. For cars and motorcycles, it’s 60mph on a single-carriageway and 70mph on dual-carriageways and motorways.

For larger vehicles like logistic vehicles, buses and coaches, it’s generally lower due to their size and nature.

Local Speed Limit

Local UK speed limits are set lower than national speed limits to enhance safety in areas with high pedestrian traffic, cyclists or specific hazards. A signpost identifies these fixed speed limits with a number inside a red circular border.

Typically, built-up areas are defined by the presence of street lights which suggest 30mph. However, this usually changes to 20mph near schools, residential zones and hospitals to reduce the risk and severity of accidents, improving road safety.

As these speed limits are legally enforceable, streets are monitored with either fixed-speed cameras or mobile camera vans.

Variable Speed Limits

Variable speed limits are implemented on certain motorways to manage traffic flow and enhance road safety.

Displaying speed on electronic overhead gantry signs allows the speed limit to change swiftly when required to ensure safety. As a result, they are most effective during rush hour, breakdowns, accidents and roadworks.

As these speed limits can change rapidly, drivers must pay close attention to these signs to prevent getting fined.

Advisory speed limit signs

Advisory speed limits can be found flashing with amber lights over motorways.

Flashing just the number is particularly relevant when visibility and road conditions are poor due to bad weather.

Temporary Speed Limits

Temporary speed limits are indicated by signs with a red circle displaying the temporary speed limit on a yellow or white background. They are enforced to ensure road safety.

Such conditions typically range from ongoing roadworks and proximity to accident scenes to events that affect normal traffic flow.
Since temporary speed limits are legally enforceable, you must remain alert and adjust your speed to avoid penalties. Failure to maintain safety can lead to fines, license points or a driving ban.

What Should a Driver Do If a Speed Limit Isn’t Obvious?

Identify the Type of Road

If you’re driving along and miss a speed sign, it’s important to identify the road you’re on to ensure you’re not going over the speed limit.
Suppose you transition from a well-lit area to a single-carriageway in a rural area. In that case, if the weather permits, you’re typically safe to drive the national speed limit of 60mph.

UK Speed Limits Explained

Check for Landmarks

Speed limits can change depending on road type and landmarks, so checking your surroundings is essential to prevent going over the limit.

Look around for school zones or places such as hospitals and residential areas that vulnerable road users frequent. Such areas will likely enforce a speed limit of 20mph.

Use Technology

When speed limits are unclear, turn to your sat-nav system for guidance.

Most sat-nav systems and apps like ‘Google Maps’ have built-in speed-limit assistance to help determine the speed limit. However, your driving instructor may encourage you not to rely on these methods, for the technology may not be up-to-date with recent road changes and speeds.