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Everything you need to know about driving in bus lanes

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Many drivers find bus lanes confusing - our simple steps can help you avoid a fine. 

bus lane

Bus lanes are a source of confusion for motorists as there are many different rules to adhere to. 

For example, some bus lanes are only used at certain times and others don’t allow other vehicles to use them at all. 

As confusing as they may be, these measures are necessary to ease levels of congestion in busy cities. So if you want to avoid getting a fine, read on. 

The law

The Highway Code states: 

”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.”

Research by Confused.com has revealed that 48% of motorists have unknowingly driven in a bus lanes. 

This confusion leads to fines. Motorists’ pockets have been hit with £35 million in fines over the last year. 

Are there any times when using a bus lane is permitted?

If the bus lane specifies times when vehicles can use it, yes. However with bus lanes that don't permit vehicles there are only very specific circumstances:

  • If there's a blockage or obstruction in the road

  • If there's an emergency vehicle approaching

  • To avoid an accident

  • If you do enter a bus lane , make sure you leave it again when it's safe to do so.

What are PCNs and how do you fight them?

A PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) is issued if you commit a traffic offence, for example a parking or waiting restriction. These are civil matters rather than criminal offences, so usually just incur a fine. 

If you don’t pay the fine within 14 days the rate usually doubles. But whatever the amount, it must be paid within 28 days. 

You can contest a PCN. Simply visit your council’s website, or follow the instructions on the PCN itself. If you decide to dispute it the cost of the fine will freeze until the case is resolved. 

If you wait until after 28 days to appeal your PCN it won’t be considered, and the full amount will be charged.

What vehicles can use bus lanes?

 This can vary and often depends on the region so make sure you check before using the bus lane. Usually, these vehicles are allowed to use bus lanes in certain circumstances:

  • 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 450 kg, not with side cars)

  • Bicycles

Identifying a bus lane and how to avoid it

It’s easy to spot a bus lane. Usually they’re indicated by a solid or dashed white line, accompanied by a sign specifying the type of bus lane.

The dashed white lines represent 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. 

 

Bus lanes sometimes have operating times - this is usually indicated by signage on the road.

bus lane sign

Image courtesy of The City of Edinburgh Council (Flickr)

Many bus lanes are in operation 24 hours a day, which means unauthorized vehicles are not permitted to use them. The signage looks like this: 

If you’ve noticed a sign, and you are clear on the rules then you can use the bus lane. If you’ve missed it or are unsure, remember these key points:

  • Bus lanes are indicated by a solid white line. this should not be crossed unless you’re permitted to do so.

  • If traffic is busy in the unrestricted lanes, it doesn’t mean you’re permitted to use the bus lane.

  • Some drivers believe there is a 20 metre grace distance for an unauthorised vehicle to travel in, but this is untrue.

What is a bus gate?

This is a length of street 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, this will usually be shown on the relevant signage.

As with a bus lane, you shouldn’t use it unless you’re authorised to do so. 

bus gate
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