Bus lanes are designed to allow buses, taxis, motorbikes, and cyclists to move freely around urban areas, so they’re not affected by congestion. But how do you know when you can and can’t drive in them, and what could happen if you get caught out in the wrong lane?

Here, we’ll investigate how bus lanes and bus lane cameras work in the UK, and how and when you can use them without picking up a fine.

How much is a bus lane fine?

You could face a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) if you get caught incorrectly using a bus lane.

The amount of money you’ll need to shell out depends on where you are in the UK. The highest fines are typically in London, where you can expect to pay over £100, although paying it off within a certain number of days can give you a decent discount (usually around 50%).

PCN charges are usually considerably less if you’re outside of Greater London, with the standard fine being around £65 and the discounted payment being only £30 if paid within a fortnight.

The good news is that driving in a bus lane is a civil matter rather than a criminal offence. That means you won’t get points on your licence, and you won’t have to inform your insurer.

Still, with a growing number of bus lanes and cameras on UK roads, it pays to be vigilant and understand how bus lanes work if you want to avoid paying endless fines.

When can you drive in a bus lane?

It can be difficult to get to grips with how bus lanes work as you encounter them. There are different rules to follow depending on the type of vehicle you drive, the time of the day and sometimes the day of the week. Therefore, while you might be able to drive through some with no issues, others might be different. 

A bus lane is indicated by a solid or dashed white line, alongside a sign detailing the type of bus lane it is. Some have operating times, indicating the times and days that only authorised vehicles are permitted to use them.

cyclist in a bus lane

Usually, the following vehicles will be authorised to drive freely in a bus lane at any time:

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

For example, if a sign states that the bus lane is operational between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm between Monday and Friday, this means that only authorised vehicles are permitted to use the bus lane. Outside of these hours, anyone can use the lane.

If a sign doesn’t state the operational hours of a bus lane, then this means that it is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore, it can’t be used by an unauthorised vehicle at any time.

The best thing to do is avoid crossing into a bus lane unless you are fully aware of the operational rules. If you have bus lanes on a route you take often, you should familiarise yourself with the rules about when you can and can’t use it. In unfamiliar areas, it may be best to stay clear of any bus lanes to be on the safe side.

It’s also important to note that a dashed white line can indicate a break in the lane – usually at the beginning or end. It can also be an area allowing for left turns or reaching a loading bay.

How do bus lane cameras work?

Similarly to red light cameras, bus lane activity is monitored and recorded by CCTV cameras to see whether unauthorised vehicles are using them within operational times. However, unlike at red lights, bus lane cameras can be placed at any point of the lane, meaning you could be caught out at the start, end, or in the middle.

The recordings can be checked to determine whether a car crossed the line in mitigating circumstances, such as making way for emergency service vehicles. You’ll often be issued with a PCN fine for clearly driving in the lane during its hours of operation.

Where and how would you spot a contraflow bus lane?

If you’re a new driver that recently passed a driving theory test, then you’ll be no stranger to the rules of a contraflow bus lane.

These bus lanes are most commonly found on one-way streets heading in the opposite direction to the rest of the traffic. They allow the bus to take the most direct and usually quickest route to avoid congestion in busier areas. Look out for blue signs that indicate these lane types, along with arrows and other markings on the road that may display that a bus lane is in operation.

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