There are three forms of speed limit that we encounter:

  • The statutory limit – 30 mph on ‘restricted' roads
  • Applied Limits; limits imposed by a permanent or temporary Traffic Order known in London as Traffic Management Orders (TMOs) and elsewhere as Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs)
  • Vehicle Speed Limits – Limits imposed upon the class or type of vehicle (which we will not expand on here)

Restricted roads

E1 thirty

Restricted roads are by far the simplest to set. By purely erecting three or more lamp columns, not more than 183 metres apart, on any road other than a motorway and in the absence of an order, the road will have a limit of 30mph. No signing is required because the law assumes that all drivers know the law. In practice, roads with street lamps tend to be in built up areas and motorists have no difficulty in recognising that the limit is 30. This however is not always the case.

Applied limits

Applied limits are either created by a permanent traffic order or, applied (as with our national speed limit and limits in road works) by way of a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order.

Permanent Orders

The mere mechanism of setting a limit by way of a permanent order revokes restricted road status and any relevance street lighting has to the indication of a limit of speed. This includes the setting of a 30 mph limit of speed.

As with other applied limits (20, 40, 50 or 60 mph) a failure to sign an applied 30 mph limit in compliance with the law has a consequence with regard to the enforceability of the limit.

The prosecuting authorities would have everyone believe (especially the courts) that we all know what a limit is. Our experience shows that in some cases almost no-one knows what the limit is!

Here is an example of defectively signed limits that show how one authority (Nottinghamshire County Council), dealt with what everyone believes to be the National Speed Limit on the A614, a road that runs adjacent to the Nottinghamshire Police Headquarters.

What speed?

A614 lit section of road north of the A617 / A614 roundabout
The A614 lit section of road north of the A617 / A614 roundabout


No!  This particular road is NOT 60mph.  

It is a 30mph Restricted Road because it has street lights and is therefore a restricted road with an automatic 30mph limit.

This status could have been revoked to create a higher limit but it was not correctly done so, despite the (unlawful) placing of the national speed limit signs, the 30mph limit still applies so a court must convict any motorist if charged with exceeding 30mph here.  That means everyone using this road on a daily basis!

- and another

A614 southbound approach to the A617 roundabout
The A614 southbound approach to the A617 roundabout


No, this one isn't. It is a length of lit highway where the restricted road status has actually been revoked by a valid traffic order with the national speed limit applied.  However, the highway authority has ignored its statutory duty to put in place the necessary signs to show the actual speed limit.

So, in the absence of proper speed signage, a motorist has a statutory defence against any  conviction for speeding (any speed anywhere) except against a charge of dangerous or reckless driving.

There is a national malaise in the imposition by highway authorities of speed restrictions and signing, much of which can have dire consequences unless the motoring public investigates the facts on each occasion. For example, at Chideock in Dorset 50,000 motorists were fined between 1997 and 2007 for allegedly exceeding a 30mph limit. But it turned out that not only were the signs used incorrect and unlawful, but the traffic order was invalid. £1.5M was then refunded to affected motorists by the Department for Transport. Read more about this and other cases.

A close examination of any order may well reveal defects in the making process, the drafting or content which results in the order being a nonsense or, not coming validly into force.

As regards what speed limit is set, the Highway Authority has wide discretion though it is under a statutory duty to consult with local police. As discussed above, Government guidelines should also be followed, although there is no compulsion on a highway authority to do so.

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