Rules and advice for drivers and riders (103 to 158)

Part of: The Highway Code

This section of the Highway Code for Northern Ireland should be read by all drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and horse-riders.

The rules in The Highway Code do not give you the right of way in any circumstance, but they do advise you when you should give way to others. Always give way if it can help to avoid an incident.



Signals warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians (see 'Signals to other road users') of your intended actions. You should always:

  • give clear signals in plenty of time, having checked it is not misleading to signal at that time
  • use them to advise other road users before moving off, changing course or direction or stopping
  • cancel them after use
  • make sure your signals will not confuse others - if, for instance, you want to stop after a side road, do not signal until you are passing the road
  • if you signal earlier it may give the impression that you intend to turn into the road
  • your brake lights will warn traffic behind you that you are slowing down
  • use an arm signal to emphasise or reinforce your signal if necessary
  • remember that signalling does not give you priority


You should also:

  • watch out for signals given by other road users and proceed only when you are satisfied that it is safe
  • be aware that an indicator on another vehicle may not have been cancelled


You must obey signals given by police officers and Driver and Vehicle Agency Enforcement Officers (see 'Signals by authorised persons') and signs used by school crossing patrols.

Laws RTRO Art 60, RTO 1995 Arts 49, 75 & 76, & RTO 1981 Arts 180 and 180A

106. Police stopping procedures

If police in a vehicle want to stop your vehicle, they will, where possible, attract your attention by:

  • flashing blue lights or headlights or sounding their siren or horn, usually from behind
  • directing you to pull over to the side by pointing and/or using the left indicator

You must then pull over and stop as soon as it is safe to do so. Then switch off your engine.

Law RTO 1981 Art 180

Other stopping procedures


Driver & Vehicle Agency Enforcement Officers have powers to stop vehicles on all roads, including motorways. They will attract your attention by flashing amber lights:

  • either from the front requesting you to follow them to a safe place to stop
  • or from behind directing you to pull over to the side by pointing and/or using the left indicator

It is an offence not to comply with such directions. You must obey any signals given. See 'Signals by authorised persons'.

Law RTO 1981 Art 180A


Traffic officers have powers to stop vehicles on most motorways and some ‘A’ class roads in England and Wales. If traffic officers in uniform want to stop your vehicle on safety grounds (an insecure load) they will, where possible, attract your attention by:

  • flashing amber lights, usually from behind
  • directing you to pull over to the side of the road by pointing and/or using the left indicator

You must then pull over and stop as soon as it is safe to do so. Then switch off your engine. It is an offence not to comply with their directions.

Law RTA 1988, sects 35 & 163 as amended by TMA, sect 6

109. Traffic light signals and traffic signs

You must obey all traffic light signals and traffic signs giving orders, including temporary signals and signs. Make sure you know, understand and act on all other traffic and information signs and road markings.

Laws RTO 1995 Art 50 & TSR regs 8, 13, 14, 24, 25, 25A, 25B, 26 & 33

110. Flashing headlights

Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or to intimidate other road users.


Never assume that flashing headlights is a signal inviting you to proceed. Use your own judgement and proceed carefully.

112. The horn

Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence.

Never sound your horn aggressively. You must not use your horn:

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am, except when another road user poses a danger

Law CUR reg 114 

Lighting requirements


You must:

  • ensure all sidelights and rear registration plate lights are lit between sunset and sunrise
  • use headlights at night
  • use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced (see rule 226)

Night (the hours of darkness) is defined as the period between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise.

Laws RVLR regs 2, 27 & 28, & RV(DRM)R reg 9


You must not:

  • use any lights in a way that would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders
  • use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced, you must switch them off when visibility improves to avoid dazzling other road users (see rule 226)

In stationary queues of traffic, drivers should apply the parking brake and, once the following traffic has stopped, take their foot off the footbrake to deactivate the vehicle brake lights.  This will minimise glare to road users behind until the traffic moves again.

Law RVLR reg 30


You should also:

  • use dipped headlights in dull daytime weather, to ensure that you can be seen
  • keep your headlights dipped when you are overtaking until you are level with the other vehicle and then change to main beam if necessary, unless this would dazzle oncoming road users
  • slow down, and if necessary stop, if dazzled by oncoming headlights

Law RVLR reg 30

116. Hazard warning lights

These may be used when your vehicle is stationary, to warn that it is temporarily obstructing traffic. Never use them as an excuse for dangerous or illegal parking.

You must not use hazard warning lights while driving or being towed unless you are on a motorway or unrestricted dual carriageway and you need to warn drivers behind you of a hazard or obstruction ahead.

Only use them for long enough to ensure that your warning has been observed.

Law RVLR reg 30 

Control of the vehicle


117. In normal circumstances

The safest way to brake is to do so early and lightly. Brake more firmly as you begin to stop. Ease the pressure off just as the vehicle comes to rest to avoid a jerky stop.

118. In an emergency

Brake immediately. Try to avoid braking so harshly that you lock your wheels. Locked wheels can lead to loss of control.

119. Skids

Skidding is usually caused by the driver braking, accelerating or steering too harshly or driving too fast for the road conditions.

If skidding occurs, remove the cause by releasing the brake pedal fully or easing off the accelerator.

Turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid. For example, if the rear of the vehicle skids to the right, steer immediately to the right to recover.

Highway Code for Northern Ireland rule 119 - rear of the car skids to the right. Driver steers to the right.

120. ABS (anti-lock brakes)

If your vehicle is fitted with anti-lock brakes, you should follow the advice given in the vehicle handbook. However in the case of an emergency, apply the footbrake firmly; do not release the pressure until the vehicle has slowed to the desired speed.

The ABS should ensure that steering control will be retained, but do not assume that a vehicle with ABS will stop in a shorter distance.

121. Brakes affected by water

If you have driven through deep water your brakes may be less effective. Test them at the first safe opportunity by gently pushing on the brake pedal to make sure that they work.

If they are not fully effective, gently apply light pressure while driving slowly. This will help to dry them out.

122. Coasting

This term describes a vehicle travelling in neutral or with the clutch pressed down. It can reduce driver control because:

  • engine braking is eliminated
  • vehicle speed downhill will increase quickly
  • increased use of the footbrake can reduce its effectiveness
  • steering response will be affected, particularly on bends and corners
  • it may be more difficult to select the appropriate gear when needed

The vehicle is also less likely to be heard by other road users.

123. The driver and the environment

You must not leave a parked vehicle unattended with the engine running or leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road.

Generally, if the vehicle is stationary and likely to remain so for more than a couple of minutes you should apply the parking brake and switch off the engine to reduce emissions and noise pollution.

However, it is permissible to leave the engine running if the vehicle is stationary in traffic or for diagnosing faults.

Law CUR regs 113 & 123

Speed limits

Type of vehicle

Built-up areas*

Single carriage-ways
Dual carriage-ways
Cars and motorcycles
(including car-derived vans up to 2 tonnes maximum laden weight)
Cars towing caravans or trailers
(including car-derived vans and motorcycles)
Buses, coaches and minibuses
(not exceeding 12 metres in overall length)
Goods vehicles
(not exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)
Goods vehicles
(exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)

* The 30 mph limit usually applies to all traffic on all roads with street lighting unless signs show otherwise.

** 60 mph (96 km/h) if articulated or towing a trailer.


You must not exceed the maximum speed limits for the road and for your vehicle (see the table above). The presence of street lights generally means that there is a 30 mph (48 km/h) speed limit unless otherwise specified.

Laws RTRO Arts 36, 39 & 43, & MV(SL)R


The speed limit is the absolute maximum and does not mean that it is safe to drive at that speed irrespective of the conditions.

Driving at speeds too fast for the road and driving conditions can be dangerous. You should always reduce your speed when:

  • the road layout or condition presents hazards such as bends
  • sharing the road with pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, particularly children and motorcyclists
  • weather conditions make it safer to do so
  • driving at night, as it is more difficult to see other road users

Highway Code for Northern Ireland rule 126 - use a fixed point to help measure a two-second gap

Stopping distances


Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should:

  • leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops - the safe rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance (see Typical Stopping Distances below)
  • allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic and in tunnels where visibility is reduced, doubling the gap on wet roads and increasing it still further on icy roads
  • remember, large vehicles and motorcycles need a greater distance to stop
  • if driving a large vehicle in a tunnel, you should allow a four-second gap between you and the vehicle in front

If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.

Northern Ireland Highway Code stopping distances

Lines and lane markings on the road

127. A broken white line

This marks the centre of the road. When this line lengthens and the gaps shorten, it means that there is a hazard ahead. Do not cross it unless you can see the road is clear and wish to overtake or turn off.

128. Double white lines where the line nearest to you is broken

This means you may cross the lines to overtake if it is safe, provided you can complete the manoeuvre before reaching a solid white line on your side.

White direction arrows on the road indicate that you need to get back onto your side of the road.

129. Double white lines where the line nearest you is solid

This means you must not cross or straddle it unless it is safe and you need to enter adjoining premises or a side road.

You may cross the line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to pass a stationary vehicle, or overtake a pedal cycle, horse or road maintenance vehicle, if they are travelling at 10 mph (16 km/h) or less.

Laws RTO 1995 Art 50 & TSR reg 25

130. Areas of white diagonal stripes or chevrons painted on the road

These are to separate traffic lanes or to protect traffic turning right:

if the area is bordered by a broken white line, you should not enter the area unless it is necessary and you can see that it is safe to do so
if the area is marked by chevrons and bordered by solid white lines, you must not enter it, except in an emergency.

Laws RTO 1995 Art 50 & TSR reg 8

131. Lane dividers

These are short broken white lines which are used on wide carriageways to divide them into lanes. You should keep between them.


Reflective road studs may be used with white lines:

  • white studs mark the lanes or the middle of the road
  • red studs mark the left edge of the road
  • amber studs mark the central reservation of a dual carriageway or motorway
  • green studs mark the edge of the main carriageway at lay-bys and slip roads
  • Green/yellow studs indicate temporary adjustments to lane layouts example. where road works are taking place

Highway Code for Northern Ireland rule 132 - reflective road studs mark the lanes and edges of the carriageway

Multi-lane carriageways

Lane discipline

If you need to change lane, first use your mirrors and if necessary take a quick sideways glance to make sure you will not force another road user to change course or speed.

When it is safe to do so, signal to indicate your intentions to other road users and when clear move over.


You should follow the signs and road markings and get into the lane as directed. In congested road conditions do not change lanes unnecessarily.

Merging in turn is recommended but only safe and appropriate when vehicles are travelling at very low speed, for example when approaching road works or a road traffic incident. It is not recommended at high speed.

Single carriageway

Where a single carriageway has three lanes and the road markings or signs do not give priority to traffic in either direction:

  • use the middle lane only for overtaking or turning right. (remember, you have no more right to use the middle lane than a driver coming from the opposite direction)
  • do not use the right-hand lane


Where a single carriageway has four or more lanes, use only the lanes that signs or markings indicate.

Dual carriageways

A dual carriageway is a road which has a central reservation to separate the carriageways.


On a two-lane dual carriageway you should stay in the left-hand lane. Use the right-hand lane for overtaking or turning right. After overtaking, move back to the left-hand lane when it is safe to do so.


On a three-lane dual carriageway, you may use the middle lane or the right-hand lane to overtake but return to the middle and then the left-hand lane when it is safe.

139. Climbing and crawler lanes

These are provided on some hills.

Use this lane if you are driving a slow-moving vehicle or if there are vehicles behind you wishing to overtake.

Be aware of the signs and markings which indicate the lane is about to end.

140. Cycle lanes

These are shown by road markings and signs.

You must not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its time of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You must not park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply.

Law RTRO Art 4(5)

141. Bus lanes

These are shown by road markings and signs that indicate which (if any) other vehicles are permitted to use the bus lane, and the times of operation.

Unless otherwise indicated, you must not drive or ride in a bus lane during its period of operation.

Law RTRO Art 4(1, 2 & 3)

142. High occupancy vehicle lanes [Great Britain only] and other designated vehicle lanes

Lanes may be restricted for use by particular types of vehicle; these restrictions may apply some or all of the time. The operating times and vehicle types will be indicated on the accompanying traffic signs.

You must not drive in such lanes during their times of operation unless signs indicate your vehicle is permitted. 

Vehicles permitted to use designated lanes may or may not include cycles, buses, taxis, licensed private hire vehicles, motorcycles, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), and high occupancy vehicles (HOVs).

Where HOV lanes are in operation, they must only be used by:

  • vehicles containing at least the minimum number of people indicated on the traffic signs
  • any other vehicles, such as buses and motorcycles, as indicated on signs prior to the start of the lane, irrespective of the number of occupants

Law RTRO Art 4(5)

143. One-way streets

Traffic must travel in the direction indicated by signs. Buses and/or cycles may have a contraflow lane. Choose the correct lane for your exit as soon as you can. Do not change lanes suddenly.

Unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise, you should use:

  • the left-hand lane when going left
  • the right-hand lane when going right
  • the most appropriate lane when going straight ahead

Remember, traffic could be passing on both sides.

Laws RTO 1995 Art 50 & RTRO Arts 4(5) & 5(9)

General advice


You must not:

  • drive dangerously
  • drive without due care and attention
  • drive without reasonable consideration for other road users

Law RTO 1995 Arts 10 & 12


You must not drive on or over a footway or footpath except to gain lawful access to property, or in the case of an emergency.

Law RTRO Art 3


Adapt your driving to the appropriate type and condition of the road you are on. In particular:

  • do not treat speed limits as a target - it is often not appropriate or safe to drive at the maximum speed limit
  • take the road and traffic conditions into account, be prepared for unexpected or difficult situations, for example the road being blocked beyond a blind bend - be prepared to adjust your speed as a precaution
  • where there are junctions be prepared for road users emerging
  • in side roads and country lanes look out for unmarked junctions where nobody has priority
  • be prepared to stop at traffic control systems, road works, pedestrian crossings or traffic lights as necessary
  • try to anticipate what cyclists or pedestrians might do - if pedestrians, particularly children, are looking the other way, they may step out into the road without seeing you

147. Be considerate

Be careful and considerate towards other road users, especially those requiring extra care (see rule 204).

You must not throw anything out of a vehicle; for example, food or food packaging, cigarette ends, cans, paper or carrier bags. This can endanger other road users, particularly motorcyclists and cyclists.

Try to be understanding if other road users cause problems; they may be inexperienced or not know the area well.

Be patient; remember that anyone can make a mistake.

Do not allow yourself to become agitated or involved if someone is behaving badly on the road - this will only make the situation worse. Pull over, calm down and when you feel relaxed continue your journey.

Slow down and hold back if a road user pulls out into your path at a junction - allow them to get clear. Do not over-react by driving too close behind to intimidate them.

Law LO


Safe driving and riding needs concentration. Avoid distractions when driving such as:

  • loud music (this may mask other sounds)
  • trying to read maps
  • starting or adjusting any music or radio
  • arguing with your passengers or other road users
  • eating and drinking
  • smoking

You must not smoke in public transport vehicles or in vehicles used for work purposes in certain prescribed circumstances.

Laws SO & SF(EVPDA)R reg 12(1)

Mobile phones and in-vehicle technology


You must exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times.

You must not use a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device, when driving or when supervising a learner driver, except to call 999 or 112 in a genuine emergency when it is unsafe or impractical to stop.

Never use a hand-held microphone when driving. Using hands-free equipment is also likely to distract your attention from the road. It is far safer not to use any telephone while you are driving or riding - find a safe place to stop first or use the voicemail facility and listen to messages later.

Laws RTO 1995 Arts 10, 12 & 56A, & CUR regs 120 & 125A


There is a danger of driver distraction being caused by in-vehicle systems such as satellite navigation systems, congestion warning systems, PCs, multimedia.

You must exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times.

Do not rely on driver assistance programs such as cruise control or lane departure warnings. They are available to assist but you should not reduce your concentration levels.

Do not be distracted by maps or screen-based information (such as navigation or vehicle management systems) while driving or riding. If necessary find a safe place to stop.

Laws RTO 1995 Arts 10 & 12, & CUR reg 120 


In slow-moving traffic. You should:

  • reduce the distance between you and the vehicle ahead to maintain traffic flow
  • never get so close to the vehicle in front that you cannot stop safely
  • leave enough space to be able to manoeuvre if the vehicle in front breaks down or an emergency vehicle needs to get past
  • not change lanes to the left to overtake
  • allow access into and from side roads, as blocking these will add to congestion
  • be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side

Highway Code for Northern Ireland rule 151 - do not block access to a side road

Driving in built-up areas

152. Residential streets

You should drive slowly and carefully on streets where there are likely to be pedestrians, cyclists and parked vehicles. In some areas a 20 mph (32 km/h) maximum speed limit may be in force. Look out for:

  • vehicles emerging from junctions or driveways
  • vehicles moving off
  • vehicle doors opening
  • pedestrians
  • children running out from between parked vehicles
  • cyclists and motorcyclists

153. Traffic calming measures

On some roads there are features such as road humps, chicanes and narrowings which are intended to slow you down.

When you approach these features reduce your speed:

  • allow cyclists and motorcyclists room to pass through them
  • maintain a reduced speed along the whole of the stretch of road within the calming measures
  • give way to oncoming road users if directed to do so by signs
  • you should not overtake other moving road users while in these areas

Highway Code for Northern Ireland rule 153 - Chicanes may be used to slow traffic down

154. Country roads

Take extra care on country roads and reduce your speed at approaches to bends, which can be sharper than they appear, and at junctions and turnings, which may be partially hidden.

Be prepared for pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists, slow moving farm vehicles or mud on the road surface. Make sure you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear. You should also reduce your speed where country roads enter villages.

155. Single-track roads

These are only wide enough for one vehicle. They may have special passing places. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, or the driver behind wants to overtake, pull into a passing place on your left, or wait opposite a passing place on your right

Give way to road users coming up hill whenever you can. If necessary reverse until you reach a passing place to let the other road user pass.

Slow down when passing pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.


Do not park in passing places.

Vehicles prohibited from using roads and pavements


Certain motorised vehicles do not meet the construction and technical requirements for road vehicles and are generally not intended, not suitable and not legal for road, footway, footpath or cycle path use.

These include most types of miniature motorcycles, also called mini-motos, and motorised scooters also called gopeds, which are powered by electric or internal combustion engines. These types of vehicles must not be used on roads, footways or footpaths.

Law RTO 1995 Arts 48, 56, 58, 63 & 72


Certain models of motorcycles, motor tricycles and quadricycles, also called quad bikes, are suitable for off-road use only - and do not meet the legal standards for use on roads.

Vehicles that do not meet these standards must not be used on roads. They must not be used on footways, footpaths or cycle paths either.

You must make sure that any motorcycle, motor tricycle, quadricycles or any other motor vehicle meets legal standards and is properly registered, taxed and insured before using it on the roads.

Even when registered, taxed and insured for the road, vehicles must not be used on footways or footpaths.

Laws RTO 1995 Arts 48, 56, 63 & 72, & VERA sects 1, 29, 31A & 43A 


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