Rules of driving in a bus lane

Last updated September 03, 2021

Bus lanes are used to separate traffic and ensure it flows freely through cities and busy urban areas. They play an especially essential role in ensuring buses don’t cause further congestion on busy roads.

However, driving in a bus lane by mistake can land drivers with a penalty charge notice (PCN), with around a third of motorists charged with the offence receiving a PCN. These alarming statistics, coupled with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pending £3bn bus lane launch, make learning the correct bus lane rules imperative.

This article explains everything you need to know about bus lanes, from how to identify a bus lane and understand its permitted users to information about potential fines for misuse.

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How to identify a bus lane

There are three main bus lane indicators: dashed white lines, solid white lines and the words ‘bus lane’ painted on the road. The solid white lines demark the edge of the bus lane, which you should never cross while the bus lane is in use. The dashed white lines indicate the lane’s entries and exits, as well as points where vehicles can cross into it (E.g. to turn left or access a loading bay).

What is a bus gate?

Bus gates permit buses, cyclists, emergency vehicles and other limited exempt users to access certain sections of roads between specified times of the day. They’re not actual gates but the length of road that forms an access restriction. The primary purpose of a bus gate is to reduce passenger travel time as they eliminate through traffic. As with a bus lane, you shouldn’t use a bus gate unless you’re allowed to do so.

When can I drive in a bus lane?

Driving in a bus lane when eligible to do so can ease traffic congestion, freeing up the remaining lanes for other vehicles. Therefore, you can drive in a bus lane outside of its operational hours, which will be displayed on its accompanying blue sign along with its permitted users. Intriguingly, avoiding a bus lane when it’s safe to use it during a driving test can result in a minor offence!

When can’t I drive in a bus lane?

All bus lanes have blue signs signalling their operation times (when buses can use them). However, bear in mind that timeframes vary significantly between roads. If the sign doesn’t display a usage timeframe, the lane operates 24/7 and is therefore off-limits for unauthorised vehicles.

Who can use a bus lane?

The motorists who can use a bus lane depends on the lane in question. Some are reserved solely for buses (minimum of 10 seats including the driver), while others include signs detailing which other road users are permitted to use them.

If the bus lane displays the word ‘local’, only local bus services can use it. However, the following road users can use a bus lane if their vehicle is displayed on the accompanying blue sign:

  • Licensed London taxis (Hackney carriages)
  • Motorcycles (without side cars)
  • Mopeds
  • Scooters
  • Tricycles (non-motorised, motorised under 450kg, not with side cars)
  • Bicycles

What if I drive in a bus lane by mistake?

When you have no other choice, you may have to drive in a bus lane. Making way for an emergency vehicle or driving in a bus lane to avoid an accident are two prime examples. However, if you drive into a bus lane by mistake, you must make sure you leave it again as soon as it is safe to do so.

What are the penalties for incorrectly using bus lanes?

As we covered in the introduction, you may be issued a PCN if you’re caught using a bus lane during operational hours. In such cases, the PCN will be sent to the vehicle’s registered keeper and contain details of the infringement along with photographic evidence.

The amount payable varies across the country but are generally much higher in London and its Congestion Charge zone.

Fines for driving in bus lanes are as follows:

  • Inside Greater London – £160 (£80 if paid within 14 days)
  • Outside Greater London – £65 (£30 if paid within 14 days)

Can I appeal a bus lane fine?

If you think you’ve been wrongly penalised, you can appeal against the notice on the following grounds:

  • The offence didn’t occur
  • The charge is more than the relevant amount
  • You’ve already been issued a Fixed Penalty Notice
  • You’re not the vehicle’s registered owner/hirer
  • You hired your vehicle to someone and have a signed a statement of liability as proof
  • Your vehicle was being kept by a motor trader
  • Your vehicle was being used without consent

Be aware that failing to pay a PCN could result in your local authority taking action against you.