UK speeding sentencing guidelines specify the penalties for motorists found to have been driving in excess of the relevant speed limit. These penalties include fines, points on the driving licence and potentially a driving ban.
In this guide for motorists, we explain how the speeding sentencing guidelines are used by the courts for speeding offences and what kind of penalty you could face if you’re caught speeding.
What are the speed limits in the UK?
Speed limits are there to help keep the public safe, where there are different limits depending on both the type of road and type of vehicle being driven. The limit is the maximum speed that you can drive at, where this does not necessarily mean that it will be safe to drive at this speed in all conditions. The motorist’s own judgment must be used.
A speed limit of 30 miles per hour (mph) applies to all single and dual carriageways with street lights, unless there are signs indicating otherwise. A 30mph speed limit is usually the limit in built-up urbanised areas where there are likely to be lots of pedestrians around, although it is becoming increasingly common to see 20mph limits for city streets.
The maximum speed for both cars and motorbikes on dual carriageways and motorways is 70mph. However, the speed limits are lower for larger vehicles, including some types of vans. You can find out what the national speed limits are for different vehicles and road types at GOV.UK. Importantly, however, local councils can set their own speed limits in certain areas, provided these are clearly signed, for example, there may be a 20mph zone near a school or a 50mph limit, rather than 60mph, on a stretch of road with sharp bends.
UK speeding laws
By law, under section 89(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act (RTRA) 1984 it provides that anyone “…who drives a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a limit imposed by or under any enactment to which this section applies shall be guilty of an offence”.
Under subsection (2) of section 89 of the RTRA, this goes on to provide that any person prosecuted for a speeding offence will not be convicted solely on the evidence of a single witness to the effect that, in the opinion of that witness, the motorist was driving the vehicle at a speed exceeding a specified limit. However, there are various different methods that can be used by the police to support a speeding allegation against a motorist, from the use of hand-held speed guns to static or mobile speed cameras, all Home Office approved.
The speed at which you could be prosecuted will all depend on where the alleged offence takes place and the legal speed limit for that road. Technically speaking, you could be prosecuted for driving at 31mph in a 30mph zone, although this is at the discretion of the police. Guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) recommends giving drivers a so-called ‘10% plus 2’ leeway, to aid police officers in using their discretion. In theory, this means that if the speed limit is 30mph, you will not be prosecuted unless you are going 10% plus 2 mph faster than the limit. In the context of a 30mph speed limit, you would therefore have to be travelling at 35mph or more for any action to be taken.
However, the guidance given by the NPCC is only a recommendation and not the law. It is still possible, and not that uncommon, to be prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit by much smaller margins, in some cases by only a couple of miles per hour.
What happens if you’re caught speeding?
Usually the registered owner of the vehicle will be sent what is called a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) detailing the speeding offence, together with a Section 172 notice. This will need to be returned identifying the driver at the time of the offence. Importantly, failure to respond to a section 172 notice is an offence in itself.
Once an NIP is returned, the driver may be sent a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN). An FPN is a conditional offer of a fine, plus penalty points, usually £100 and 3 licence points. If you accept that you are guilty of speeding, as alleged, you can simply pay the fine and accept the points. However, if you decide instead to plead not guilty, you will have to go to court to contest the charge. If you are then found guilty in court, you may be ordered to pay a higher fine. You may also receive more penalty points and be at risk of losing your licence.
If you already have 8 or more points on your licence at the date of the commission of the offence, or you were driving well above the speed limit, you may also have to go to court.
However, in the least serious cases, instead of being prosecuted, you may be given the option of attending a speed awareness course. Whether you are eligible for an awareness course will vary depending on which police force is handling your offence. If you have been convicted of speeding in the past 3 years, you will also not be eligible.
Penalties for speeding
When deciding on an appropriate sentence, the Magistrates Court must follow the relevant speeding sentencing guidelines. As speeding offences are triable only summarily, this means that your case will be tried before the Magistrates, rather than the Crown Court. Under the Magistrates Court sentencing guidelines, the maximum financial penalty for speeding is a Level 3 fine (£1,000), or a Level 4 fine (£2,500) for an offence committed on a motorway.
Under the speeding sentencing guidelines, you may also receive up to 6 penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving. Where a motorist has driven grossly in excess of the speed limit, the court may consider a disqualification in excess of 56 days, otherwise it will generally impose a ban of between 7 to 56 days. If you receive a ban of more than 56 days, you will need to re-apply for your licence once the ban is up. You may also need to re-sit your driving test or take an extended test before being able to get your full licence back.
If you do not receive an instant ban, any points endorsed on your licence can also lead to disqualification under the totting-up rules. This is because accumulating 12 or more penalty points within a 3-year period can lead to at least a 6-month ban. Equally, if you are a new driver and you receive 6 penalty points within your 2-year probationary period, your licence will be automatically revoked. You will then have to apply for a provisional licence, requiring you to re-take both your theory and practical driving tests all over again.
Generally, motorists cannot be sent to prison or be jailed for a speeding offence alone. However, where speeding is committed in conjunction with another more serious offence, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or death by dangerous driving, you may receive a custodial sentence.
UK speeding sentencing guidelines
Under the speeding sentencing guidelines, the Magistrates Court will need to determine the seriousness of the offence having regard to different speeding bands. These bands provide a starting point for all motorists, irrespective of plea or previous convictions.
The Magistrates Court sentencing guidelines set out three speeding bands, depending on the seriousness of the offence: A, B or C. For Band A, the motorist can expect 3 penalty points, plus a fine of between 25% to 75% of their weekly income (after tax and National Insurance has been deducted); for Band B the motorist can expect either 4 to 6 points or, in the more serious cases, a 7 to 28 day ban, plus a fine of between 75% to 125% of their weekly income; and for Band C, the most serious of the three speeding bands, the motorist can expect either 6 points, or a 7 to 56 day ban, plus a fine of between 125% to 175% of their weekly income. Importantly, fines are capped at a maximum of £2,500 for speeding on a motorway and a maximum of £1,000 for speeding on any other kind of road.
A useful table which sets out the sentencing range, based on the legal speed limit and the motorist’s recorded speed, can be found on the Sentencing Council website. Using this table as a starting point to determine the correct speeding band, the court should then go on to consider any aggravating or mitigating factors. Aggravating factors could include previous speeding convictions or speeding in poor weather conditions, while mitigating factors could include a guilty plea, being of good character and speeding due to a genuine emergency.
Can you ever defend a speeding charge?
Although speeding offences will typically be supported by clear evidence of speed from a Home Office approved device, it may be possible in some cases to raise a technical argument to undermine the accuracy of the evidence used to prove the speeding offence.
For an offence caught on camera, for example, you would expect to see a calibration certificate for the device, a photograph of the incident and, if it is a manually-operated device, a certificate of training for the operator. This will usually be sufficient to prove the offence, where the general approach of the court is that if the device used by the police has produced a reading or photograph showing the speed and distance, it can be assumed that it is accurate, unless there is evidence to the contrary. However, you may be able to challenge any photographic evidence, such as on the basis that the police have failed to target the number plate or another vehicle is within the cross hairs of the camera.
There may also be a basis upon which to establish the accuracy of the speed check, although this will involve requesting any video footage from the police, which may take a number of requests and plenty of perseverance. This is because the police are not under any obligation to disclose such evidence until the case comes before the court.
What can you do if you’re caught speeding?
In those cases where you accept the likelihood that you were speeding, as alleged — and in the absence of a windfall defence, such as if the calibration certificate was out-of-date — there may be no real benefit in obtaining any additional evidence. As such, if you have been offered a fixed penalty by the police, it can often be better to cut your losses, rather than allowing the offer to expire in a bid to chase evidence that may be unlikely to assist you. This approach may result in a higher penalty if the matter ultimately goes to court.
In contrast, where you think there may be an error in recording your speed or there is otherwise some potential basis upon which you can persuade the court that the offence has not been made out, you will need evidence to support this. As the onus is on the motorist to prove the speed is wrong, you may well require expert opinion to establish how an error has occurred, together with a specialist legal representative to advance any technical defence on your behalf. Simply attending court and suggesting that your speedometer indicated you were travelling far slower than alleged is not going to hold any sway.
By securing expert legal advice from a specialist in speeding offences, and where there is a sound basis upon which to challenge any evidence of speeding, there may be good prospects of an acquittal if you decide to plead not guilty. Equally, where your solicitor is able to secure any video footage prior to going to court, an informed decision can be made as to your prospects of success, where an early plea can often result in a lesser penalty.
Speeding sentencing guidelines FAQs
At what speed will you be prosecuted?
The speed at which you could be prosecuted will all depend on where the alleged offence took place and the legal speed limit for that particular road. Technically, you could be prosecuted for driving at 31mph in a 30mph zone.
What is the sentence for speeding?
Under the speeding sentencing guidelines, the minimum penalty for speeding is a £100 fine and 3 points added to your driving licence. If you receive 12 or more penalty points within a 3-year period, you may be disqualified from driving.
What is the sentence for speeding UK?
The maximum fine in the UK for speeding on a motorway is £2,500, while the maximum fine for speeding on other roads is £1,000. The motorist may also receive between 3 to 6 points or a short ban from driving.
Can you be jailed for speeding UK?
You cannot be sent to prison for speeding alone. However, where speeding is committed in conjunction with another more serious offence, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or death by dangerous driving, you may receive a custodial sentence.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.