Speed limits, roads and the law: what you need to know

Speed limits and the law

‘You must not drive faster than the speed limit for the type of road and your type of vehicle.’ The government’s stance is pretty clear, and yet millions of motorists break the speed limit every day.

According to Department for Transport statistics, 46 percent of cars exceeded the speed limit on motorways in 2018, compared to 52 percent on 30mph and 10 percent on 60mph roads.

In the same year, the RAC Report on Motoring explored the reasons given for breaking the speed limit. Users were asked to select up to three reasons.

The top reason was ‘I drive according to the speed of other road users’. A case of following the crowd.

Interestingly, on roads with a 20mph restriction, 31 percent of motorists felt the speed limit was inappropriate.

Research shows that around 1,000 people are caught speeding every day, which is why Moneybarn has suggested laying out the law. By sticking to the following limits, you’ll avoid a run-in with the police or a fixed penalty notice (FPN).

National speed limits

Vehicle Built-up areas (mph) Single carriageways (mph) Dual carriageways (mph) Motorways (mph)
Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles 30 60 70 70
Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles when towing caravans or trailers 30 50 60 60
Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight) 30 60 70 70
Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight) 30 50 60 70
Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length) 30 50 60 70
Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length) 30 50 60 60
Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) 30 50 60 70 (or 60 if articulated or towing a trailer)
Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in England and Wales 30 50 60 60
Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in Scotland 30 40 50 60

Locally set speed limits

Local councils can set their own speed limits in certain areas. These will be clearly signed.

Examples include:

  • A 20mph zone near a school, in a built-up area, or in a pedestrianised zone
  • A 50mph limit on a road with a high record of accidents, or with sharp corners, roundabouts and hidden dips

20mph speed limit sign

Vehicle-specific speed limits

There are specific rules for vans, car-derived vans, dual-purpose vehicles and motorhomes.

Most vans have a lower speed limit than cars and must follow the limits for good vehicles of the same weight. Vehicles under two tonnes (loaded) may qualify as a car-derived van or dual-purpose vehicle. These vehicles have the same speed limits as cars.

Motorhomes and motor caravans are classed as goods vehicles if they carry products for exhibition and sale, are used as a workshop, or are used for storage.

Speeding penalties

30mph sign

The minimum penalty for breaking the speed limit is a £100 fine and three penalty points. Accumulating 12 or more points within a period of three years could lead to a disqualification.

Caught by a speed camera

Within 14 days, drivers will be sent a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) and a Section 172 notice. The Section 172 must be returned within 28 days, telling the police who was driving the car.

In return, drivers will be sent a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) or a letter telling them to go to court.

Stopped by the police

Drivers will face one of three outcomes: a verbal warning, an FPN, or an order to go to court.

Getting a Fixed Penalty Notice

Drivers who receive an FPN can plead guilty or not guilty.

Pleading guilty results in a £100 fine and three points on the driving licence, or the opportunity to attend a speed awareness course.

First-time offenders can avoid penalty points by taking a speed awareness course. Research suggests these courses are a more effective deterrent for speeders than fines or points.

Drivers who plead not guilty will be summoned to court. The risk of doing so is an increased fine and more penalty points.

Safety camera partnership van

The size of the fine depends on what the speed limit was and by how much it was exceeded. It’s usually a percentage of the driver’s weekly income, up to a maximum of £1,000 (or £2,500 if driving on a motorway).

Drivers could also be disqualified from driving or have their licence suspended.

Courts operate on a ‘band’ system based on the severity of the offence. The system can be viewed here, but the following table provides a summary of the likely points and disqualification period.

Speed limit (mph) Recorded speed (mph) Recorded speed (mph) Recorded speed (mph)
20 41 and above 31-40 21-30
30 51 and above 41-50 31-40
40 66 and above 56-65 41-55
50 76 and above 66-75 51-65
60 91 and above 81-90 61-80
70 101 and above 91-100 71-90
Sentencing range Band C fine Band B fine Band A fine
Points/disqualification Disqualify 7 – 56 days OR 6 points Disqualify 7 – 28
days OR 4 – 6 points
3 points

Statutory aggravating factors include:

  • Previous convictions, having regard to a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence; and b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction
  • Offence committed while on bail

Other aggravating factors:

  • Offence committed on licence or post-sentence supervision
  • Poor road or weather conditions
  • Driving LGV, HGV, PSV, etc
  • Towing a caravan or trailer
  • Carrying passengers or a heavy load
  • Driving for hire or reward
  • Evidence of unacceptable standard of driving over and above speed limit
  • Location, e.g. near school
  • High level of traffic or pedestrians in the vicinity

More information