Speed Limits in the UK: Tips for Travelling on Different Types of Road

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The UK’s road network can be a complicated place at times.

There’s a plethora of road layouts to contend with, endless roundabouts, and obscure signs. However, there’s one thing that doesn’t need to be confusing when you’re out and about: speed limits.

There are standard speed restrictions depending on the type of road you’re driving on. For example, if you’re on a motorway or dual carriageway, the standard limit is 70mph -- falling slightly to 60mph if you’re on a single carriageway. National speed limit signs are usually displayed when you’re coming out of a zone with a lower limit.

If you’re not on a motorway or a dual carriageway and you’re not certain about the speed limit, your safest bet is to travel at 30mph.

Check the following video to refresh your knowledge of speed limits.

It’s worthwhile to know the difference between mandatory minimum and mandatory maximum speed limit signs -- and it all hinges on the colour. Whereas signs which warn you about the highest possible speed you should be travelling have black numbers on a white background, signs displaying the minimum speed are blue with white text.

When it comes to maximum limits, do remember that you don’t have to hit this top speed at all times. Poor visibility, bad weather conditions, lane closures and lots of traffic may make sudden braking more likely, and it’s easier to react to hazards quickly when you’re at a slower pace.

How Will I Know If I’m in a 20mph Zone?

Normally, 20mph limits are imposed on roads which are frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists -- and you’ll frequently find these zones around schools. Sometimes, the limit may only be in force for times of the day when young children are coming in and out of class.

As well as signs when you’re entering and leaving the 20mph zone, you’ll typically notice a range of traffic calming measures which means you’ll have to drive slower anyway. These could include speed bumps and narrower roads. Research from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents shows these limits significantly slash the risk of collision in built-up areas -- and the risk of being involved in a fatal accident with a car travelling at 20mph is just 2.5%, compared to 20% at 30mph.

Four Ways to Keep Your Speed Under Control

  1. 1

    Rely on Your Speedometer

    If you’re driving a newer vehicle, there may be times when you may not realise exactly how fast you’re going. This can be keenly felt when you have been driving on a motorway for a while and take an exit on to a 30mph or 40mph road. Even though you’re driving within the limit, it can feel like you’re going painfully slowly, and so you can end up tempted to pick up the pace. You shouldn’t trust how your driving feels -- depend on cold, hard facts instead. Checking your speedometer, or using your car’s technology to set speeds and receive notifications when you’re about to exceed a self-imposed limit, can help you stay on the right side of the law.

  2. 2

    Make the Most of Your Gears

    Selecting the gears you use carefully can provide helpful warnings when your speed is about to get too high. For example, if you’re in a 30mph zone, try to remain in third gear. If you attempt to accelerate and pick up the pace, the engine will likely begin to sound strained and act as a reminder to slow down. Of course, you should consider driving conditions, the type of car you have and your own driving style when trying out this method.

    Check these key learning points for changing gears to make an informed decision on the road.

  3. 3

    Understand What Causes You to Speed

    Sometimes, it’s possible for other drivers to wrongly put you under pressure. They may be travelling too close behind you -- or indeed, the person in front may be going painfully slowly. Overtaking someone isn’t always a good idea, and oftentimes, you may need to exceed a speed limit in order to complete the manoeuvre in sufficient time. Heading downhill can also act as a trigger -- not to mention listening to loud, fast-paced music. Sometimes, self-awareness and some simple changes can help reduce your stress levels when driving, and even make it a more enjoyable and laidback experience.

  4. 4

    Remain Focused

    We all should know the dangers of using a phone behind the wheel and the implications it can have for speeding and detecting alerts ahead. But even something as simple as grabbing a piece of chewing gum or reaching for a cigarette can cause you to lose awareness of your speed.

    stay focused
    Keep your eyes on the road at all times

Dozens of questions in the theory test centre on speeding.

By heading to our website and taking some mock tests, you’ll be able to test your knowledge on speed limits and signs -- with helpful guidance provided if you answer a question incorrectly.

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