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Section 8:

Speed Limits

A vehicle shall not be driven at a speed exceeding that which will enable its driver to bring it to a halt within a distance the driver can see to be clear.

This section describes the rules for keeping pace in traffic and the speed limits that apply on different types of road and to different vehicles.

As a driver, you must always be aware of your speed and judge the appropriate speed for your vehicle, taking into account:

  • driving conditions,
  • other users of the road,
  • current weather conditions,
  • all possible hazards, and
  • speed limits.

Driving conditions relate to the volume of traffic around you and the quality of the road.

Other users of the road include motor-cyclists, cyclists, pedestrians, school children, animals and all others you as a driver should anticipate will or may be on the road.

Possible hazards include anything you can see that can, and will, give rise to an emergency, such as oncoming traffic if you are turning onto a major road. They also include anything you cannot yet see and anything you can reasonably expect to happen, such as a pedestrian walking onto the road in front of you, a child running onto the road between parked cars, and or animals on the roadway. It includes your own physical and mental state while driving (for example whether you are stressed or tired) and the condition of your vehicle.

Driving Safely in Traffic -
the two-second rule

Your vehicle is your responsibility. You must be in control at all times.

You must keep your vehicle to a speed that allows you to stop it:

  • safely, in a controlled way,
  • on the correct side of the road,
  • within the distance that you can see to be clear, and
  • without risk or harm to you, your passengers and/or any other users of the road.

In traffic, the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you is known as the safe headway. Keep a safe headway by ensuring you are at least two seconds behind the vehicle in front. This is known as the two-second rule. You can use the following steps to check if you are obeying the rule:

  • On a dry road, choose a point like a lamp post or road sign.
  • When the vehicle in front passes that point, say out loud 'Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.'
  • Check your position in relation to your chosen point as you finish saying this. If you have already passed the point, you are driving too close to the vehicle in front and need to pull back.
  • In wet weather, double the distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you by saying 'Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.' twice.

2 second rule safe gap
Use a fixed point to help
measure a two second gap

Never drive closer than indicated by the two-second rule. If you drive too close to the vehicle in front (tailgating) and it brakes suddenly, you may not have enough time to react. If you run into the vehicle, you will be liable for any damage caused.

Avoid driving too slowly

In normal road and traffic conditions, keep up with the pace of the traffic flow while obeying the speed limit. While you must keep a safe distance away from the vehicle in front, you should not drive so slowly that your vehicle unnecessarily blocks other road users. If you drive too slowly, you risk frustrating other drivers, which could lead to dangerous overtaking.

Speed Limits

Signed speed limits set the maximum speed at which vehicles may legally travel on a section of road between speed limit signs, assuming the vehicles are not restricted in any way.

The signs indicate the maximum speed at which your vehicle may travel on a particular road or stretch of road, not the required speed for the road.

There are two types of speed limit:

  • speed limits that apply to roads, and
  • speed limits that apply to certain types of vehicles.

Speed Limits on Roads

All public roads have speed limits. In most cases, a 'default' speed limit applies. This automatically applies to a particular type of road if there is no speed limit sign to show otherwise.

The table below sets down the default speed limits for different roads under the Road Traffic Act 2004.

  Type of Road   Speed Limit

120 km/h

(Blue Signs - M numbers)



100 km/h speed limit sign

National roads (primary and secondary)
(Green Signs - N numbers)

National roads



Non-national roads (regional and local)
(White Signs - R or L numbers)

Non-national roads


50 kmh speed limit

Roads in built-up areas, such as cities, towns and boroughs

Roads in built-up areas


Local authorities can apply special speed limits to these roads, for example:

  • at particular times, such as when children are entering or leaving schools. See Section 19,
  • on different sides on a dual carriageway,
  • at selected locations such as a tunnel, where the limit may be lowered if one lane must be closed,
  • where there is a series of bends, and
  • at road works.

If the local authority sets a special speed limit, you will see one of the signs below. Speed limit signs, like most other regulatory signs, have a red border, white background and black numbers and letters. They show the speed in kilometres per hour (km/h). For more information on regulatory and other traffic signs. See Section 6.

30 km/h

50 km/h

60 km/h

80 km/h

100 km/h

120 km/h
100 km/h

The main speed limit signs on national primary and other roads are sometimes followed by small repeater signs to remind you of the road's speed limit.

No vehicle other than fire engines, ambulances or Garda vehicles may exceed the road speed limit at any time.

Periodic Speed Limits

Normally, speed limits apply 24 hours a day and all year round. In certain situations, local authorities can apply a special speed limit to certain stretches of road for particular periods of time or particular days. Outside these times or days, the usual speed limit at that location is in force.

An example of a periodic speed limit is one used near school grounds. One way to show this special limit is through a standard upright sign with an information plate underneath that shows the periods and days when the speed limit applies.

Electronic periodic
speed sign
Electronic periodic speed sign

Electronic periodic
speed sign at
Electronic periodic speed sign at school

Another way of showing the speed limit is an electronic speed limit sign which when lit up shows the speed limit in white figures within a red border against a black background. Outside the special speed limit periods, the sign remains blank. Sometimes the electronic sign can be mounted on a grey backing board with two amber lights, which may flash when the sign is lit up.

The sign School Children Crossing Ahead that includes two amber flashing lamps may appear beside periodic speed limit signs to alert you to the presence of school children.

You must not break the periodic speed limits while they are in force.

Checking speed

From time to time and on various stretches of road, Garda. may use certain equipment to check if vehicles are obeying the speed limit. It is against the law to supply, carry or use any device that can detect or interfere with any speed monitoring equipment under their control.

Speed Limits for Vehicles

Some drivers must obey speed limits for their vehicles as well as speed limits for the roads on which they are travelling.

The table below outlines the speed limits that apply to different vehicles.

Vehicle speed limit Type of vehicle to which it applies
80 kilometres an hour (80km/h)
  • A vehicle that can carry more than 8 passengers, apart from the driver, but does not carry any standing passengers
80 kilometres an hour (80km/h)
  • A goods vehicle with a design gross vehicle weight of more than 3,500 kilograms
good vehicle excess 3500
80 kilometres an hour (80km/h)
  • Any vehicle towing a trailer, caravan, horsebox or other attachment
car and trailer
65 kilometres an hour (65km/h)
  • Any double-deck bus or double-deck coach
double decker Bus
65 kilometres an hour (65km/h)
  • A single deck bus carrying standing passengers
coach standing passemngers

If the vehicle and road speed limits are different, the driver must obey the lower of the two. For example, if a double-deck bus is travelling on a road with a speed limit of 80km/h, it cannot travel faster than its vehicle speed limit of 65km/h. But if it is travelling on a road with a speed limit of 50km/h, it must obey this limit regardless of the maximum speed at which it might otherwise be allowed to travel.

Stopping Distance for Cars

Many drivers have a false belief that if the car in front starts braking they can react, brake and come to a stop, still leaving the same distance between the two vehicles.

The total stopping distance of your vehicle depends on four things:

  • your perception time,
  • your reaction time,
  • your vehicle reaction time, and
  • your vehicle braking capability.

stopping distance

Your perception time is how long you take to see a hazard and your brain realising it is a hazard requiring you to take immediate action. This can be as long as 1/4 to 1/2 of a second.

Your reaction time is how long you take to move your foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal once your brain understands you are in danger. Your reaction time can vary from 1/4 to 3/4 of a second.

These first 2 components of stopping distance are down to you and can be affected by alcohol, drugs, tiredness, fatigue or lack of concentration. A perception and reaction time of 4 seconds at 100km/h means the car travels 110 metres before the brakes are applied (this is more than the length of a football pitch).

Once you apply the brake pedal it will take time for your vehicle to react. This depends on the condition your vehicle is in and, in particular, the condition of the braking system.

The last factor that determines your total stopping distance is the vehicle's braking capability. This depends on many things, for example:

  • brakes,
  • tyre pressure, tread and grip,
  • the weight of the vehicle,
  • the vehicle's suspension, and
  • road surface.

Table 5: Stopping distance under dry conditions

Speed (km/h) Reaction Distance (m) Braking Distance (m) Total Stopping Distance (m)

30 km/h




50 km/h




60 km/h




80 km/h




100 km/h




120 km/h




Source Transport Research Laboratory, UK, 2007, © Road Safety Authority, 2007

Table 6: Stopping distance under wet conditions

Speed (km/h) Reaction Distance (m) Braking Distance (m) Total Stopping Distance (m)

30 km/h




50 km/h




60 km/h




80 km/h




100 km/h




120 km/h




Source Transport Research Laboratory, UK, 2007, © Road Safety Authority, 2007

It is worth noting that from 50km/h to 100km/h the total braking distance of your car can increase from 15 metres to 60 metres. When you double the speed of your car you multiply the total braking distance four times.

Remember a 5km/h difference in your speed could be the difference between life and death for a vulnerable road user like a pedestrian.

  • Hit by a car at 60km/h, 9 out of 10 pedestrians will be killed.
  • Hit by a car at 50km/h, 5 out of 10 of pedestrians will be killed.
  • Hit by a car at 30km/h, 1 out of 10 pedestrians will be killed.

Source RoSPA UK

graph of stopping distance in km/h

Source Transport Research Laboratory, UK, 2007, © Road Safety Authority, 2007


Any factor which reduces the grip of your tyres on the road is a possible source of skidding. Wet or greasy roads, overloading, worn or improperly inflated tyres, mud, leaves, ice, snow, harsh acceleration, sudden braking, or excessive speed for the conditions can all cause or contribute to a skid.

Aquaplaning occurs when a car is being driven on a wet road and a film of water builds up between the tyres and the road surface.

When that happens, the car loses contact with the road, and braking and steering is affected.

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