What is a Contraflow System?

You might get a question like this on your theory test:

You’re on a motorway. There’s a contraflow system ahead. What would you expect to find?

a) Lower speed limits

b) Speed humps

c) Temporary traffic lights

d) Wider lanes than normal

The answer is “a”. If there’s a contraflow system ahead, you’d expect to find lower speed limits.

To understand why, let’s explore what a contraflow system is, and how it works.

What is a Contraflow System?

A contraflow system is an arrangement where traffic travels in the opposite direction. It’s common to find temporary contraflow systems on motorways. If there’s a breakdown, an accident, or a set of roadworks, it might be necessary to shut down one side of the motorway.

In this case, a contraflow system can keep the traffic moving with as little disruption as possible, through temporary letting cars drive on the other side of the motorway.

Contraflow System Sign

As a learner driver you might have to identify a contraflow system sign as part of your theory test. It’s a large yellow rectangle, usually with the words “STAY IN LANE” at the top, with a speed limit at the bottom.

In the middle is an image showing two arrows drifting from the bottom left to the top right, to indicate traffic flowing into a different lane on the other side of the motorway.

Motorway Contraflow Systems

When you encounter a contraflow system, there are a few things you should do to keep safe:

  • Obey the new speed limit, as indicated by the signs.
  • It’s likely that traffic cones will be the only thing separating you from oncoming traffic. Your lane will also be much narrower than an ordinary motorway lane. So get into your lane as soon as you can, and stay in your lane for as long as you’re in the contraflow system.
  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.
  • Look out for debris, spillages, and broken down vehicles in the road.

You should also bear in mind that the hard shoulder is often out of action throughout a contraflow system. This will only be a problem if you suspect you’re about to break down. But so long as you obey the speed limit and keep your distance, you’ll be fine.

Other Types of Contraflow Systems: Bus & Cycle Routes

Some contraflow systems are in permanent use, as part of bus routes or cycle routes. These permanent contraflow systems help to speed up bus routes, and to help cyclists stay safe through avoiding busy routes and tricky junctions.

The sign for each of these is the same. It’s a blue rectangle divided into two sections. In the left-hand section are two arrows, pointing up, indicating the direction of traffic. In the right hand section is an image of either a bus or a bike, with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction. This indicates that buses or bikes may travel on this road in the opposite direction to the traffic.

If you see one of these signs, adjust your speed and road position accordingly. You may encounter a bus or a bike travelling in the opposite direction. If you’re travelling too fast, or if you’re too close to the bus or cycle lane, you may not be able to react in time.

Bus & Cycle Lane Contraflow Theory Test Question

You may see a question about these contraflow bus and cycle lanes on your theory test. It might be something like this:

Where would you see a contraflow bus and cycle lane?

a) On a dual carriageway

b) On an urban motorway

c) Near a roundabout

d) On a one-way street

The answer is “d”, and it’s obvious when you think about it! If a contraflow system allows some road users to travel in the opposite direction to the traffic, then of course you’d find them on a one-way street!

Ready for Your Driving Test?

The best way to prepare for your driving test is to get as much practice in as possible. It’s a good idea to practice outside of your lessons, where you’ll really be able to build up your confidence behind the wheel.

For this, you’ll need a car to practice in and someone to supervise you. You’ll also need to sort out your own car insurance.

At Go Girl, we specialise in affordable car insurance for learners. We’ll give you comprehensive cover while you practice outside of your lessons. And once you pass your test, you can switch to a new driver insurance policy, and start building up your no claims discount immediately.

Get in touch for a free quote online.


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