Learning the rules of the road will help you and other road users stay safe. It is extremely important that you learn about:

  • The speed limits that you must obey
  • How to safely use junctions and lanes
  • How to overtake and reverse safely
  • How to safely use pedestrian and level crossings
  • Where it is safe and legal to stop and park.

Some of the rules of the road are legal requirements whilst others are recommended best practice. You should be following all of the rules in order to keep the roads safe.

Speed limits

Speeding is one of the most dangerous things you can do and can have severe consequences. You must NEVER drive above the speed limit, for your vehicle type and road you’re driving on. In the event that no speed limit is displayed, the national speed limit applies. For cars and motorcycles this is:

  • 60 mph (96 km/h) on a single carriageway road
  • 70 mph (112 km/h) on a dual carriageway or motorway.
  • 50 mph (80 km/h) on a single carriageway road when towing a trailer or caravan
  • 60 mph (96 km/h) on a dual carriageway or motorway when towing a trailer or caravan.

Other clues to the speed limit, if there are no signs displayed, are to be found by looking at the street lights. If they are present then there’s usually a 30 mph (48 km/h) speed limit for all vehicles. This only applies unless signs indicate otherwise.

Some roads may have a minimum speed limit displayed. As long as it is safe to do so you should always travel above the limit shown on the sign.

Regardless of the speed limit, you should always use your judgement based on the road and weather conditions. For example slippery roads require a lower speed, as does driving along a street where cars are parked. In the event of this type of journey you should be beware of:

  • Pedestrians stepping out from behind parked vehicles, children are particularly susceptible to doing this.
  • Vehicles pulling in or out, sometimes suddenly and without the driver indicating.
  • Drivers’ doors opening.

There may sometimes be temporary speed limits at road works in order to slow traffic down. These speed limits are mandatory and may be enforced by cameras or police officers patrolling the area.

Lanes and junctions

Sometimes roads have lanes that are specifically marked by signs and road markings, as reserved for specific vehicles, such as cycles, buses, trams or, in some places, motorcycles. These signs should display their hours of operation and should be used only by those vehicles during those times, unless otherwise indicated.

Cycle lanes are sometimes marked by a solid white line, in the event of this you should never enter the lane during its hours of operation. If a cycle lane marked by a broken line you should never enter it unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

Footpaths should only be driven over when it’s necessary in order to reach a property, this should have a dropped kerb.

If you’re travelling on a dual carriageway or three-lane dual carriageway, then the right-hand lane is only ever for turning right or overtaking. Do not travel in this lane.

If you wish turn right onto a dual carriageway that has a central reservation, you should first check that your vehicle will safely fit. If it’s too narrow to fit the length of your vehicle, you should wait until the road is clear in both directions before emerging. Otherwise, you run the risk of obstructing traffic coming from your right, if your vehicle is too long.

You should always be particularly cautious when at junctions and move into the correct position in plenty of time. This will ensure increased visibility and time to contemplate your next move. If you’re turning left you should keep well to the left as you approach the junction. If the traffic is slow-moving you should remember to check for cyclists to your left before you turn, by using your wing mirrors.

If you find you’re travelling in the wrong direction on a busy road, you should continue your keep going until you can find somewhere safe like a quiet side road, where you can turn around. NEVER attempt to reverse or do a U-turn. The same principle applies if you find yourself in the wrong lane at a busy junction.

A box junction should only be entered if the exit is clear. It is marked by yellow hatched lines. If your exit is not clear you should hang back and wait on your side of the junction. If you are waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic before turning right, you may enter the junction

You should give way to oncoming traffic, when something like a parked car is blocking the road, if there isn’t room for you both to continue safely.

Crossroads

Crossroads can be tricky to master and you must be very observant. If you wish to turn right at the same time that an oncoming driver is turning right, then it is usually safer to keep the other vehicle to your right and turn behind it. If this is not possible and you have to pass in front of the other vehicle, then you should be aware that your view may be blocked and take extra care.

If there aren’t any signs or markings at the crossroads then no-one has priority. This has the potential to be dangerous so you should check very carefully in all directions and use all of your mirrors before you enter into the junction.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts can be very busy and drivers can forget to indicate or change lanes in an unacceptable, manner.  They are designed to help traffic flow smoothly and by avoiding the mistakes of other drivers and keeping observant, you can ensure hey run smoothly and efficiently. You should follow road signs and markings as you approach and drive around roundabouts. If you are travelling straight ahead you shouldn’t s signal as you approach instead you should wait and signal left just after you pass the exit before the one you wish to turn into.

You should be aware that some vehicles may have to follow different rules in order to stay safe and be prepared for; cyclists and horse riders staying in the left-hand lane even if they’re turning right and long vehicles potentially taking up a different position to normal in order to stop the rear of their vehicle hitting the kerb.

Overtaking

Overtaking should only be done when it is completely necessity and safe as it is a dangerous manoeuvre.

Overtaking should usually be done on the right, but there are exceptions.  In a one-way street you may pass slower traffic on the left. If you’re overtaking on a duel carriageway you must take extra care and be aware that the right-hand lane can also be used by traffic turning right.

Reversing

Reversing is also a dangerous manoeuvre and should never be done for further than you have to or from a side road into a main road.

Before you start to reverse you should be completely sure that it is safe. If you’re not then get out and check before you start.

If you are reversing into a side road, you must always check in all directions to make sure that the road and traffic conditions are safe. This is one of the only times that you can undo your seat belt as it may help you to get a better view and see in your blind spot. However, you MUST refasten it as soon as you’ve completed the manoeuvre.

Pedestrian crossings

Zebra Crossings

Zebra crossings require you to stop and wait if somebody is at the crossing preparing to cross, as long as it’s safe to do so.

Pelican Crossings

When the red light changes to flashing amber, on a pelican crossing you must wait for any pedestrians to finish their journey safely across the before you move off. These are controlled by somebody pressing a button on the side of the road.

Toucan Crossings

Toucan crossings are notable as cyclists are allowed to cycle across at the same time as pedestrians.

Level crossings

Level crossings are present where there is a railway line that crosses the road, they can be extremely dangerous.

Thy sometimes have countdown markers which warn you if the crossing is hidden, such as if it is located around a bend.

Traffic-light signals with twin flashing red lights, plus a warning alarm for pedestrians are present at controlled-crossings.

Crossings sometimes have barriers present but not always so you should be vigilant.

If this happens… you should do this

If- you’re approaching the crossing and the warning lights come on.

You should- Stop. Red lights, must be obeyed, by law.

If- warning lights come on or a bell rings when you’re already on the crossing.

You should -Keep going and clear the crossing.

If- The train has passed but the red lights keep flashing, when you’re at a level crossing.

You should –Wait. It is extremely dangerous to move as here may be another train coming.

You should be aware that not all types of level crossing have lights. Such as, crossings with user-operated gates or barriers, and open crossings. You should be ultra-cautious at all types of level crossing.

Stopping and parking

You should always make sure that you’re in a safe and legal place to park before stopping. If you wish to park at night, you should do so in a garage, if you have one, as this is the safest place. If you don’t or you’re not at home you should try to find a secure car park or park in a well-lit area.

You MUST leave your parking lights on if the speed limit on that road is over 30 mph (48 km/h) and you’re parking at night, in order to ensure you’re visible to other road users. Parking on the left-hand side of the road means that other road users can see your reflectors. If you’re parking in a one-way street you can park on either side, equally safely.

NEVER stop on a clearway. You are only to drop off and pick up passengers if you are on an urban clearway. If a road is marked with double white lines (even if one of the lines is broken), you may stop there only to load/unload goods or drop off and pick up passengers.

Clearway= a stretch of road or street where stopping is prohibited

You should never park where you would cause a danger or get in the way of other road users, such as:

  • Opposite a traffic island
  • In front of someone else’s drive
  • Near a school entrance
  • Opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction (in Northern Ireland this is within 15 metres or 48 feet of a junction), unless there’s an authorised parking space
  • In front of the entrance to a property
  • At or near a bus stop
  • Near the brow of a hill. Parking here can make it hard for drivers to see if it’s safe to pass or not
  • At a dropped kerb.  Parking here will hinder wheelchair and mobility scooters from getting onto the road or pavement.

You need to be aware of parking restrictions and not park where these apply. They are usually shown by signs and yellow lines. You will have to pay to park if you are in a controlled parking area. Ensure that you are parking within the marked bays and only on the days and times shown on the zone entry signs, in order to avoid a fine or having your car clamped or towed.

You can only park in a disabled parking space if you, or your passenger, are a disabled badge holder, otherwise known as possessing a ‘blue badge.’ This MUST be displayed when you leave the vehicle or you will be fined.

You MUST stop, by law, if you:

  • Have been involved in a road traffic incident
  • Are at a red traffic light
  • Have been signalled to do so by a police officer, traffic warden, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) officer, traffic officer or school crossing patrol (a ‘lollypop lady’).

Smoking in your car

It has been illegal to smoke in your car since 1 October 2015 if one or more of the passengers is under 18. Therefore, you must not stop and must stop anybody in the vehicle from smoking if there is somebody under 18 in the car. This applies even if you’re a leaner driver, but not in the case of smoking an e-cigarette.