The majority of drivers are law-abiding, aware and know what’s around them, but even the most flawless record can earn a black mark for a momentary distraction or lapse of judgement. It is, regrettably, easier than ever to be caught speeding and fined regardless of the conditions and circumstances thanks to the reliance on cameras and automated processes rather than an actual police presence, though as any motorway user in Britain knows, there are plenty of marked cars just waiting.
On the whole speed limits in the UK are sensibly enforced, and the biggest risk you face when changing your vehicle is buying something that has different limits to what you’re used to. When considering 2nd hand cars, pickups and vans, it’s worth remembering that a double-cab pickup might have different A-road and dual carriageway limits depending on the kerb weight.
This also affects motorhome conversions, with the added risk that you need to double check your licence covers you to drive the larger options.
How can you tell which speed limit applies?
Usually there are signs, in the form of a red circle around a number. The speed is in miles per hour, and although there’s a long-standing belief that the police would allow leeway, that’s not always the case; the number is, ultimately, the law. Road works with a sign in a red circle have had the law changed via a traffic order, and on smart motorways, the variable gantry sign is the legal limit – unlike the old amber signs for poor weather which, legally were advisory.
There are four categories of national speed limit.
- Motorways have a standard speed limit of 70mph
Goods vehicles over 7.5tonnes are legally limited to 60mph
Commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are limited to 56mph
- Dual carriageways have a standard speed limit of 70mph
Commercial and heavier dual-purpose vehicles are limited to 60mph
- Single carriageways have a limit of 60mph
Commercial and heavier vehicles are limited to 50mph
- Towns and built-up areas have a limit of 30mph
In Scotland and Wales many urban areas are adopting a 20mph limit, which can apply even on wide, fast roads through towns. These same regions have been among the first to trial zero-tolerance speeding fines.
So, how much could you be fined?
The lowest penalty for speeding is three points on your licence, and a £100 fine, issued via a fixed penalty notice. However, if you go to court for speeding you can be fined up to 175% of your weekly salary. The scale of that penalty is defined by the severity of the offence, defined by Bands A, B, and C. Most Band A offences will fall under the fixed penalty rules, but that isn’t always the case.
The speed limit, for the purposes of the banding, is the limit applicable to the vehicle, not the road. Therefore a 3.5t van caught doing 68mph on a single carriageway road is a Band B offence, even if the road itself has a 60mph limit.
This is worth remembering when hiring a vehicle, and it’s also important to consider if you’re buying a double-cab pickup as heavier examples (over 2,140kg) fall under the reduced limits for single and dual carriageways, despite having car-like performance.
The fine is capped at £2,500 on the motorway, £1,000 on more minor roads, with the final value split into three bands, depending on how far over the limit you were caught.
What if you don’t get a fixed penalty notice?
If you plead not guilty, or aren’t offered a fixed penalty notice, you will go to court. These are the applicable penalties, without considering other factors such as driving under the influence, constructions and use breaches, or driving without due care and attention.
Under Band A, the court can impose a fine in the range of 25-75% of your weekly salary.
You will also receive three penalty points.
Band A speeding offences:
- > 21-30mph when the speed limit is 20mph
- > 31-40mph when the speed limit is 30mph
- > 41-55mph when the speed limit is 40mph
- > 51-65mph when the speed limit is 50mph
- > 61-80mph when the speed limit is 60mph
- > 71-90mph when the speed limit is 70mph
Under Band B, the range is 75-125% of your weekly salary, plus between four and six penalty points or disqualification from driving for seven to 28 days.
Band B speeding offences:
- > 31-40mph when the speed limit is 20mph
- > 41-50mph when the speed limit is 30mph
- > 56-65mph when the speed limit is 40mph
- > 66-75mph when the speed limit is 50mph
- > 81-90mph when the speed limit is 60mph
- > 91-100mph when the speed limit is 70mph
Under Band C the range is 125-175% of your weekly salary, plus six penalty points or a seven to 56-day driving ban.
However, the guidelines also explicitly state: ‘Where an offender is driving grossly in excess of the speed limit the court should consider a disqualification in excess of 56 days.’ So that’s not a set limit.
Band C speeding offences:
- > 41mph and above when the speed limit is 20mph
- > 51mph and above when the speed limit is 30mph
- > 66mph and above when the speed limit is 40mph
- > 76mph and above when the speed limit is 50mph
- > 91mph and above when the speed limit is 60mph
- > 101mph and above when the speed limit is 70mph
The ‘speed limit’ in all these cases should be considered the legal limit for the vehicle, rather than the road.
What defines a dual carriageway?
You might associate a dual carriageway with four lanes of traffic, but the legal definition is a central divider (a kerb, island or barrier). This is where you see 60mph signs on a road where there’s an island for junctions, followed by the NSL – national speed limit – sign.
A crawler lane on a single-carriageway road, where there is a central lane for passing slower traffic, is not a dual carriageway as there is no physical barrier separating oncoming traffic. Usually these will use the white lane dividers to legally restrict cars passing using all three lanes, or limit overtaking to uphill traffic only.
When does the national speed limit apply?
Whenever you see the white round sign with diagonal black lines, and the road has no repeater signs. Many A-roads now have lower 50mph limits, and many urban dual carriageways have lower limits as well; there will always be small repeater signs to remind you.
What about overtaking?
From a legal standpoint, you cannot break the speed limit to overtake.
How can I avoid a speeding fine?
By not speeding, of course! With so much conflicting information, overgrown bushes covering signs and inaccurate data from car navigation and road sign reading systems it is possible to get confused. Fortunately, if it’s your first offence and within Band A, you may be offered a speeding awareness course. You can do this once in a four-year period, and it will cost you money, but it won’t involve points on your licence or a fine.
If your car has a speed limiter, use it in urban and unfamiliar areas, and don’t rely on sign recognition. In-car speed limit signs are usually right, but sometimes rely on out-of-date map data or misread signs from side streets.