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Driving in a Bus Lane by Mistake – What Should You Do?

It happens to the best of us: You’re driving through an unfamiliar part of town, or perhaps an overly-familiar part of town. Maybe your mind wanders for a moment, or maybe you have to navigate a particularly complex junction. Anyway, before you know it, you realise you’re driving in a bus lane…

What should you do?

How to Tell If You’re Driving in a Bus Lane

Bus lanes are always clearly marked. Sometimes they’ll have dashed white lines, sometimes solid white lines. Sometimes they’ll be a different colour to the rest of the road surface. Sometimes the words “bus lane” will be written along the road.

When Can You Drive in a Bus Lane?

Bus lanes are for buses, but not all of them are total no-go zones.

The sections of a bus lane marked by dashed white lines are sections where it’s acceptable for vehicles to cross into it. This could be to make a left turn, or to enter a loading bay.

Many bus lanes feature blue signs that indicate their operating hours. During these operating hours, the lanes are usually exclusively reserved for buses. But outside of these hours, you should be fine to use the bus lane so long as it’s safe to do so.

The blue sign may also contain a bit of information about which road users are allowed to use the bus lane during normal operating hours. Some bus lanes only allow for buses. Others may allow for taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds, and so on. It all depends on what’s displayed on the sign, so pay attention!

If there is no blue sign, then you’ll have to assume that the bus lane is reserved solely for buses, and that this is the case 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Driving in a Bus Lane by Mistake

Of course, there are some perfectly valid reasons why you might have to temporarily pass into a bus lane, such as when you need to avoid an obstruction, or when you need to allow an ambulance to pass. In these cases, it’s vital that you leave the bus lane as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Many bus lanes are monitored by CCTV, so the authorities should have a good understanding of your specific circumstances. But if you find you’ve strayed into a bus lane by mistake, and you have no real excuse for doing so, you may be issued a penalty.

You’ll be sent a penalty charge notice (PCN) through the post. The PCN will include details of your offence, some information about your vehicle, and some photographic evidence. If the incident took place inside Greater London’s Congestion Charge Zone, the fine can be as high as £160, or £80 if it’s paid within 14 days. Outside of Greater London, the fine is usually around £65, or £30 if it’s paid within a fortnight.

You won’t receive any points on your license if you drive in a bus lane by mistake, and a PCN won’t affect your car insurance premium.

Appealing Your Bus Lane PCN

If you think you’ve been wrongly penalised, you can appeal your bus lane PCN. If you’re disputing the penalty entirely, be prepared to provide some evidence that the incident did not occur.

Other grounds for appealing can include:

  • Receiving a penalty that’s more than the relevant amount
  • Getting a PCN when you’ve already received a Fixed Penalty Notice
  • You’re not the registered owner or hirer of the car
  • The car had been hired out to someone who’d signed a statement of liability, it was being kept by a motor trader, or it was otherwise used without your consent

In any case, be prepared to provide evidence. The PCN itself should provide all the information you need about the appeal process.

If your appeal is rejected, you could try appealing to an independent tribunal. You’ll have to do this within 28 days of receiving your “notice of rejection” letter. But if you don’t pay your PCN, your local authority could take legal action against you. You don’t want to end up in court, so you should only appeal if you genuinely feel like you have a strong case!