Martin Wade reminds contractors of rules and regulations on vans and national speed limits

We all know that a car is allowed to travel at up to 60 mph on a single carriageway and 70 mph on a dual carriageway (or do we?). We are also aware how often we are overtaken by white vans, particularly during the rush hour.

The reality is that vans – and that includes all goods vehicles not exceeding 7.5 tonnes – are subject to lower national speed limits than cars on both single and dual-carriageway roads.

Vans are only allowed to travel at up to 50 mph on single carriageways and 60 mph on dual carriageways. Clearly there are lower speed limits for built-up areas and local roads, when the displayed limit will apply to both cars and vans.

The national speed limits for all road vehicles are set out in Schedule 6 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984 and are summarised in regulation 124 of the September 2007 edition of the Highway Code.

Why should vans have lower speed limits than cars when they are now fitted with the same modern advanced braking systems? The answer is that goods vehicles are designed to be able to carry heavier loads and when laden they will tend to take longer to slow down than a car travelling at the same speed.

It is easy to think that if vehicles are in the same tax or registration class – vans and cars – they are subject to the same speed limits. This is not the case and the two issues are unrelated: they are governed by different legislation. National speed limits are set out in the 1984 legislation and are based on the possible load capacity of vehicles and whether or not the vehicles are used for carrying passengers.

There are exemptions for a small group of vans, as defined in schedule 6 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act. These are vans that are derived from a car chassis and have a maximum laden weight of no more than 2 tonnes. This means that the weight of the vehicle plus the load it is designed to carry does not exceed 2 tonnes.

It is easy to think that if vehicles are in the same tax or registration class – vans and cars – they are subject to the same speed limits. This is not the case: they are governed by different legislation

Martin Wade

The van design must also be a derivative of a car body; it is not sufficient that it looks similar to a particular car. Very few vans actually meet the criteria for exemption and are allowed to comply with speed limits intended for cars. Those that do are likely to be similar to a Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa or Renault Clio, having a maximum load of around 500 kg, so that when compared with the weight of the vehicle unladen (normally around 1.4 tonnes), the maximum laden weight of the whole vehicle will not exceed 2 tonnes.

What this actually means is that vans – including the Ford Transit and the larger panel vans – will not meet the definition of ‘car-derived vans’ set out in part IV section 2 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act, and so will be subject to the reduced speed limits. If there is any doubt as to whether any of your vehicles can be considered a ‘car-derived van’, it is recommended you check with an appropriate authority.

Many are not sure of the national speed limits for different categories of roads, not just for vans but also for cars. It is an interesting exercise to ask the question of your friends to see how many are uncertain as to what the current limits are. In fact the limits have been in place for well over 20 years, and there are no apparent plans to change these limits to allow vans or cars to be driven at higher speeds.

This is because the experts remain convinced that the issue of speed is very much one of safety. It should be remembered that there is no dispensation for a van travelling without a load, and the national speed limits apply to the vehicle type. It makes no difference whether the vehicle is fully loaded, partially loaded or travelling without a load.

Some vehicles, particularly heavy goods vehicles, are required to have a speed limiter restricting the vehicle to no more than 56 mph. These will be on vehicles registered after 30 September 2001 having a gross design weight of over 3.5 tonnes.

Most vans will not be fitted with a limiter, and in any case on local roads the speed limit is likely to be lower than limits on the national ones.