Use of Speed

To base your driving speed on the conditions of the road and other factors such as weather conditions.
To know and understand the importance of adapting your speed to the conditions of the road, weather conditions and road conditions
  • To use appropriate speed for road and weather conditions
  • To understand national speed limits for various types of road
  • The stopping distances for various speeds and road conditions
  • To adapt your speed in changing conditions

The correct use of speed is the hallmark of a good driver.

speed camera

There are no circumstances in which you are permitted to travel faster than the speed limit of the road on which you are travelling on. This includes overtaking. It is illegal to break the speed limit, even for a short amount of time.

To ensure you drive safely, it is also important to match the speed you are driving to the road and travel conditions.

Remember speed limits do not mean that you have to travel at the maximum set speed. Always use your judgement and drive according to the road conditions.

Avoid being over cautious at roundabouts and junctions, by remaining stopped even when it is safe to move ahead. By waiting even when safe you may confuse other road users and potentially cause a hazard.

Speed Limits On UK Roads:

Fast moving car

On UK roads the following speed limits apply for car drivers (there are different speed limits if towing and for goods vehicles)

Built up areas – the maximum speed limit is 30mph (in some areas such as near to schools, this speed limit may be reduced further to 20mph and this lower level must be kept to.

Street lamps generally mean you are in a built up area. A good rule of thumb is light and paint show restraint.

Single Carriageways – the maximum speed limit is 60mph

Dual Carriageways – the maximum speed limit is 70mph

road with barrier in middle

The difference between a single and dual carriageway is the barrier in the middle of the dual carriageway. There are lots of roads with 2 lanes in each direction but, because there is no barrier in the middle they are single carriageways.

Motorways – the maximum speed limit is 70mph

You must not exceed the maximum speed limit for the road you are travelling on.

The speed limit is the maximum allowed. This does not mean that it is safe to drive at this maximum speed in all conditions.

This leads to the golden rule of speed: always be able to stop in the distance that you can see is clear in front of you. This gives rise to the silver rule which says always have enough space between you and the car in front to be able to stop safely if they stop suddenly.

You should always reduce your speed when:

  • The road layout or condition presents hazards such as bends
  • If there are cyclists, pedestrians, horses or motorcyclists on the road
  • If the weather conditions are poor
  • When driving at night
Stoppings Distances:

Stopping distance wheel marks

You should always drive at a speed that will allow you to stop safely if a vehicle in front stops or slows suddenly.

Typical stopping distances can vary due to road conditions, vehicle type and weather but the following is a guide:

Travelling at 20mph – 12 metres to stop (three car lengths)

Travelling at 30mph – 23 metres to stop (six car lengths)

Travelling at 40mph – 36 metres to stop (nine car lengths)

Travelling at 50mph – 53 metres to stop (thirteen car lengths)

Travelling at 60mph – 73 metres to stop (eighteen car lengths)

Travelling at 70mph – 96 metres to stop (twenty four car lengths)

On fast moving roads and in tunnels you should allow at least a two second gap between your car and the vehicle in front. If the roads are wet this should be doubled and increased further in extreme weather such as ice or snow.

If you need to stop inside a tunnel always leave at least a 5 metre gap between your car and the vehicle in front of you when stopped.

Adapting Your Speed:

sensible driver

You made need to adapt your speed for many different reasons, even during one journey. Reasons to adapt your speed may include:

  • Changing weather conditions
  • Congestion on the road
  • Lane closures multi lane roads
  • Road works
  • Speed restrictions – both permanent and temporary
  • Level of traffic
  • Road conditions -such as bends or bridges
  • Areas with pedestrians
  • Areas near schools

Always be prepared to adapt your speed to suit the conditions of your journey. When adapting your speed, always consider stopping distances and the gap between your car and the one in front.

When adapting or changing speed do not do this is in an unpredictable manner.

Remember there are no circumstances where you may travel faster than the speed limit. Travelling above this speed puts you and other road users at risk. If caught driving above this limit you will also face possible fines, points on your licence, or a driving ban.

Always be prepared to change your speed to suit changing road and travel conditions.

Remember to allow adequate stopping distances between your car and other vehicles.

You should:

  • Always be able to stop in the distance that you can see is safe in front of you
  • Know what the legal limits are
  • Understand what sort of gap you need in front of you
  • Know how your safe speed is affected by different things
Further Reading:
The Highway Code Rule(s): 124-126, p40 and p42-43

Driving The Essential Skills: Section(s) 7 and 10


What’s in the driving syllabus?

Click on a topic below to get started.
Please note this syllabus should be used with a professional driving instructor.


Cockpit Drill

Safety Checks

Controls and Instruments
Moving Away and Stopping
Safe Position
Mirrors Vision and Use
Anticipation and Planning
Use of Speed
Other Traffic
Dual Carriageway
Motorway Driving
Country Roads
Pedestrian Crossings
Turning the Vehicle Around
Emergency Stop
Independent Drive
Fuel-Efficient Driving
Passengers and Loads