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This paper sets out the legislation and guidance on speed limits and how highways authorities can vary limits in their areas. It also explains policy towards 20 mph, motorway and rural speed limits and how speed limits are enforced. Finally, it summarises the policies of successive governments towards speed limits.

In built up areas the general speed limit is 30mph; on single carriageway roads it is 60 mph and on dual carriageways, 70 mph. However, highway authorities have the power to vary the speed limits on the roads they control – for example in urban areas, particularly around schools, there has been a growing trend for local highway authorities to reduce the limit to 20 mph. Similarly single and dual carriageways often have a lower limit than that indicated above – particularly as they approach heavily populated areas.

In January 2013 the Department for Transport published revised guidelines to local highway authorities on the setting of speed limits. Broadly this reiterated pre-existing policy, emphasising the options available to local authorities to introduce 20 mph limits in urban areas and to assess speed limits in rural areas based on safety criteria. It also launched a new speed limit appraisal tool for local authorities. At the same time the police speed enforcement guidelines were republished. These remain in force.

Speed limits are enforced by road traffic police and automated detection devices such as speed cameras. Penalties can range from a Fixed Penalty Notice of £100 and three points on the licence to a £1,000 fine and a disqualification. Drivers may be offered the alternative of a speed awareness course. Some have called for a more pro-active approach to speed management and enforcement, with the use of Intelligent Speed Adaptation or speed limiters for vehicles.

Since 2010 Conservative-led governments have debated whether the speed limits on motorways should be increased to 80 mph, but there was no formal consultation on this and it is not now Government policy.

Please note that this paper applies to England only, this is now a devolved matter across the rest of the UK: there are links to the relevant legislation and guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the appropriate sections.

Information on other roads-related issues, including speed cameras, can be found on the Roads Briefings Page of the Parliament website.


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