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Bus lane rules: What you need to know

Many drivers find bus lanes confusing, but these simple steps can help you avoid a fine. 

Bus lanes are now a fixture in cities and towns across the country.

For motorists, that means more opportunities for confusion and potential fines, because not all bus lanes have the same rules.

A bus lane to the left of cars in traffic

Our research shows that nearly half (44%) of all drivers have accidentally driven in a bus lane.*

And this confusion can lead to a fine. So to help you avoid getting penalised, here's a look at when you can and can't drive in a bus lane.

 

What the law says about bus lanes

The Highway Code rule 141 says: 

“Bus lanes are shown by road markings and signs that indicate which (if any) other vehicles are permitted to use the bus lane. 

“Unless otherwise indicated, you should not drive in a bus lane during its period of operation. You may enter a bus lane to stop, to load or unload where this is not prohibited.”

 

What vehicles can use bus lanes?

This can vary and often depends on the area you’re in, so make sure you check before using a bus lane. Usually, the following vehicles are allowed to use them:

  • Buses with a minimum of 10 seats.
  • Licensed taxis.
  • Licensed vehicles for private hire.
  • Motorcycles (without a sidecar).
  • Mopeds.
  • Scooters.
  • Tricycles (non-motorised, motorised under 450kg, without sidecars).
  • Bicycles.

 

How do I know it’s a bus lane?

Bus lanes have a solid or dashed white line, with a sign that shows the specific type of bus lane.

The dashed white lines show the start and end of the lanes, with a solid white line running between them. These marks aren’t to be crossed when the bus lane is in operation. 

Some bus lanes have operating times, which you'll find on the signs near the lane.

Many bus lanes are in operation 24 hours a day, which means unauthorised vehicles can't drive in them at all.

If you’ve noticed a sign stating that restrictions don’t apply at a certain time, and you're clear on the rules, then you can use the bus lane. If you’ve missed the sign or if you're are unsure, remember these key points:

  • Bus lanes are indicated by a solid white line. You shouldn't cross this unless you’re allowed to do so.
  • If traffic is busy in the normal lane, it doesn’t mean you’re allowed to use the bus lane.
  • Some drivers believe there's a 20 metre grace distance for an unauthorised vehicle to travel in. This isn't true.

 

Are there any times when I can drive in a bus lane?

Yes, if the bus lane specifies times when other vehicles can use it.

It’s important to remember that if the bus lane sign doesn’t indicate there are times when you can use it, you can’t.

Just to make things even more confusing, in some places some bus lanes are in operation for 24 hours a day while others allow you to use them at certain times. That’s why you should always check the signs.

If the bus lane doesn't allow other vehicles, there are only specific special circumstances when you can drive in it:

  • If there's a blockage or obstruction in the road.
  • If there's an emergency vehicle approaching.
  • To avoid an accident.
  • To pick up or drop off a passenger.

If you enter a bus lane for one of these reasons, make sure you leave it again as soon as it's safe to do so.

 

What are the penalties for using a bus lane?

If you use a bus lane incorrectly, you could be issued with a penalty charge notice (PCN), which is a fine.

The size of the fine varies across the UK. Typically the fines are highest in London and can be well over £100. You usually get a 50% discount if you pay within a certain number of days though.

It’s a civil matter rather than a criminal offence, so it's unlikely to involve points on your driving licence and therefore shouldn't impact your car insurance either. 

But it means that incorrectly using a bus lane can be as needlessly expensive for you as belting past a speed camera or parking illegally.

 

What is a bus gate?

This is a stretch of road that creates a shortcut for buses. It reduces travelling time for passengers as it cuts out through traffic. 

Sometimes other vehicles can use a bus gate, which is usually shown on the sign.

But, as with a bus lane, you shouldn’t use it unless you’re specifically told you can, otherwise you might receive a PCN. 

 

How do I challenge a bus lane fine?

Of those who have driven in a bus lane, more than one in four (28%) people said they were hit with a PCN.

To contest a PCN, visit the website of the local authority that issued it, or follow the instructions on the PCN itself. If you decide to dispute the penalty, the cost of the fine will freeze until the case is resolved.

But if you wait until after 28 days to appeal your PCN, your appeal won’t be considered. You’ll have to pay the full amount without any early-settlement discount.

 

What happens if I ignore a PCN?

Don’t bury your head in the sand. Your fine won’t go away if you ignore it.

If you fail to pay, the local authority can get it listed as a debt at a county court. You’ll be charged an admin fee for this.

If you still fail to pay the PCN and the related costs, the county court can instruct bailiffs to seize possessions from your home to cover the outstanding amount.

 

* Figures taken from omnibus research carried out by OnePoll on behalf of Confused.com. This was a nationally-representative poll of 2,000 UK drivers. The research was conducted between 12 and 14 October 2020.