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A collection of speed limiting signs

Different roads have different speed limits and, unfortunately, it is easy to fall foul of the changing limits on a road. But there are some standard limits on certain roads, and IAM’s head of driving standards, Peter Rodger, has put together some details of what you can expect out there to help you avoid the unwelcome thud of a speeding fine notification on your doormat, or that depressing 'pull in' indication from a law enforcement officer on the roadside.

Firstly, the most important thing to remember is that speed limits are a maximum, not a target; and that although it is not a crime to drive well below the limit, it isn't advisable. Keep to a sensible speed for the conditions, the car and the area.

Street Lighting areas

A 30mph Road SignIn a built up area with street lighting, the speed limit is 30mph – unless there are signs stating otherwise. There aren't always visible 30mph signs so remember if you see street lighting, keep to that speed limit and don’t assume it’s more than 30mph unless it tells you otherwise.

If the speed limit is 20mph (for example; around schools, areas where children are likely to play, residential areas and busy town centres,) then there will be a traffic sign and, more often than not, road markings and possibly speed bumps. It is important that you keep an eye out for the signs.


Normal speed limit on the motorways in the UK is 70mph, but often there are speed restrictions set depending again on driving conditions such as bad weather and roadworks. On these occasions the speed limits will be detailed on a sign or via the electronic speed limit signs displayed above the motorway.

These electronic signs may be displayed as either advisory or mandatory instructions. For example, if you see a rectangular speed number with flashing amber lights you are advised to travel within the recommended speed; but if the speed limit is contained inside a red ring you must not exceed the speed shown and can be prosecuted for breaking that limit.

A 40mph Road SignVan and Truck Driving

If you are driving a van, it is important that you are aware that the maximum speed at which you are allowed to travel will vary depending on the road you are on, the weight and the design of your vehicle. For example, if you are driving a van in a national speed limit area, on a single carriageway the speed limit for a van is 50mph, and up to 60mph on a dual carriageway. If you are driving on the motorway the national speed limit applies at 70mph. 

New regulations have recently come in governing the maximum speed at which heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) over 7.5 tonnes can travel. On a single carriageway the speed limit has increased from 40mph to 50mph, and on a dual carriageway it has increased from 50mph to 60mph. It is important to note that this does not apply in Scotland except on parts of the A9 route.

A 20mph Road SignOther road users

It is important to remember that a lot of commercial vehicles (vans and trucks) and buses have a speed restricting device fitted in their vehicles to stop these vehicles exceeding speed limits - so don't be tailgating them in the hope that they will suddenly accelerate and speed up; BECAUSE THEY WON'T!

Be aware that cars towing trailers and caravans are subject to lower limits on a single carriageway (50mph), dual carriageways (60mph) and motorways (60mph), and that this also applies to vans pulling trailers. It is a lot safer on these occasions to wait for a safe overtaking opportunity, especially when it comes to longer vehicles.

As Peter Rodger says: “Drivers should recognise that limits are there for a reason – which are sometimes not easy to see. Speeding traffic is a frequent complaint of residents across the country. Make driving without breaking the limit something you do easily – and avoid the fines.”

If you need any more advice on UK Law and other such driving matters, visit our Guides page here for more information.