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national speed limit sign

National speed limits – everything you need to know

Speed limits are different on nearly every road. And then there’s that sign for… the national speed limit? What does that even mean? We’ve got all the ins and outs for you, no stress.

Kate O'Brien
by Kate O'Brien

It’s important to know the national speed limits or you could risk getting a fine, points on your license, or taking a speed awareness course. Not to worry, we’re answering all your most frequently asked questions on the national speed limit.

What is the national speed limit? 

As a driver, you come across speed limits everyday, wherever you are in the UK. They usually range from 20mph up to the national speed limit in the UK, which changes depending on the type of road or type of vehicle you’re driving. You’ll come across a national speed limit sign every now and then, especially if you’re off on a road trip. 

If a road has a sign for the national speed limit, this means the limit is the absolute max speed you can drive, but it doesn’t mean it’s always safe to drive that fast. 

You should always watch out for: 

  • Road layouts, bends or other hazards such as wildlife 
  • Bad weather conditions or icy roads 
  • Pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists and signs for schools 
  • Driving at night 

If it’s not safe, slow down. Better safe than sorry. And if you get a bit cocky and go over the national speed limit, you can get hefty fines, penalty points or even a driving ban – ouch. 

National speed limit sign 

You’ve probably seen this road sign here and there, but as a refresh, the national speed limit sign is usually a white background with a black circle and a black stripe going diagonally through it. From right to left if you want to be specific.   

national speed limit sign

National speed limit on restricted roads 

A restricted road is a fancy name for a road in a built-up area. It’s quite hard to work out the speed limit when it’s so busy, and if you can’t see any signs but there are buildings and street lights around you, stick to 30mph. 

National speed limits usually vary, but you’re all good for restricted roads. It’s the same for every type of vehicle, easy peasy: 

  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles: 30mph 
  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles when towing caravans or trailers: 30mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 30mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 30mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length): 30mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length): 30mph 
  • Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight): 30mph 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in England and Wales: 30mph 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in Scotland: 30mph 

Changes to national speed limit in residential areas in Wales 

The Welsh Government is planning to reduce the national speed limit in Wales from 30mph to 20mph on residential roads and busy pedestrian streets. This will be carried out in phases. The reasons behind it are that it saves lives, makes streets safer and makes it better for cyclists and pedestrians. It also encourages less cars on the road so in turn, better for the environment too.  

The first phase will be carried out this year to see if there’s a best practice approach and then it will be fully carried out in 2023. Wales will be the first in the UK to carry this out. 

National speed limit on single carriageways 

A single carriageway road is a road where there is no physical divider between your lane and oncoming traffic. This is different from a dual carriageway because dual carriageways will always have separation between the lanes. On a single carriageway, there are no traffic lights less than 200 yards apart.  

If you’re on a single carriageway, the national speed limit depends on the type of vehicle: 

  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles: 60mph 
  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles when towing caravans or trailers: 50mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 60mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 50mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length): 50mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length): 50mph 
  • Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight): 50mph 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in England and Wales: 50mph 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in Scotland: 40mph 

National speed limit on country roads 

Country roads are the same as single carriageway roads, just a more commonly used word. The national speed limits for these are above, unless the road signs say otherwise. Remember, the local authorities can set lower speeds so keep an eye out. 

National speed limit on dual carriageways 

A dual carriageway is where a divider is used. It can be something as simple as a grass verge, or more structured like big weighty barriers – they’re both classed as dual carriageways. The divider has a fancy word too if you’re interested, they’re known as the ‘central reservation’. Nice. 

Although the national speed is the max speed you can drive, lots of dual carriageways have different speeds which are well signed if there are turns or concealed entrances. You need to follow what the signs say. 

If you find yourself on a dual carriageway, the national speed limit also changes depending on the vehicle: 

  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles: 70mph 
  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles when towing caravans or trailers: 60mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 70mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 60mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length): 60mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length): 60mph 
  • Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight): 60mph 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in England and Wales: 60mph 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in Scotland: 50mph 

National speed limit on motorways 

A motorway is a major road that’s made for fast travel, so driving on a motorway can be pretty daunting. They’ll usually have 3 or 4 lanes on each side with a divider between them. If you’re on the motorway, the national speed limit applies unless there are signs otherwise, like for road works or when you’re on a smart motorway. 

A smart motorway will change speed limits and open or close lanes to manage traffic or if there’s been a breakdown, so you have to keep checking the overhead digital signs. If the speed limit is lower on the signs, the national speed limit isn’t applicable until the signs change back. 

If the national speed limit is applicable, motorway speeds also change per vehicle: 

  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles: 70mph 
  • Cars, motorcycles, car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles when towing caravans or trailers: 60mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (not more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 70mph 
  • Motorhomes or motor caravans (more than 3.05 tonnes maximum unladen weight): 70mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (not more than 12 metres overall length): 70mph 
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses (more than 12 metres overall length): 60mph 
  • Goods vehicles (not more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight): 70mph (60mph if articulated or towing a trailer) 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in England and Wales: 60mph 
  • Goods vehicles (more than 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight) in Scotland: 60mph 

Can you drive 50mph on a motorway? 

If you’re driving way too slow on a motorway, you could be fined or given a verbal warning, but it’s usually rare. If you’re doing 50mph, you’re not breaking the law, and it’s very unlikely that you’ll be fined unless you’re causing a problem for other drivers, so don’t stress too much.  

What’s a car-derived van? 

If you’ve been reading the national speed limit lists above and have no idea what a car-derived van is, it’s a type of van that’s similar to a car and designed to weigh no more than 2 tonnes when at its max load.  

They also look similar to cars without the rear windows or seats, and generally drive the same way as standard cars, so they can follow the same speed limits. If you’re not sure if a van is car-derived, you can check the log book in the ‘body type’ section. 

Need temporary insurance? 

Phew. That was a lot. But it’s all important stuff because at the end of the day you don’t want to be caught out if you don’t know your national speed limits. It’s always a good idea to refresh yourself now and then. And if you’re planning a road trip, we might be able to help you out with our temporary insurance. No need for your own car and all that hassle, you can just borrow a friend or family member’s car and it won’t even affect their no claims bonus. How’s that for a win-win situation? 

Kate O'Brien
Kate O'Brien

I'm the social and content executive at Veygo and have been driving for 5 years. I love driving and the freedom it gives you!

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