Contraflow system: a guide for learner drivers

Theory Test Learning To Drive
Last updated: Wednesday, 22nd May 2024
What is a contraflow system?

Learning to drive involves understanding various traffic management systems, one of which is the contraflow system. This article explains what a contraflow system is, where you might see one, and how to navigate it safely.

By the end of the article, you'll be ready to handle contraflow systems, whether they appear on motorways, bus lanes, or cycle lanes. You'll also be able to confidently answer any contraflow systems theory test questions in the DVSA driving theory test.

What is a contraflow system?

A contraflow system is a traffic management arrangement where traffic is directed to move in the opposite direction to what is usual. These systems can be permanent but you can also find temporary contraflow systems.

You'll often see contraflow systems on busy routes in major cities and construction zones to manage heavy traffic.

Are contraflow systems used on major roads? Yes, contraflow systems are used on dual carriageways and motorways during roadworks, incidents, or events that require lane closures. They help keep traffic moving despite the disruption.

There are also contraflow bus and cycle lanes to allow for efficient and safe public transport and cycling.

In a contraflow system, lanes are reconfigured to allow traffic to travel in the opposite direction. Contraflow signs, barriers, and traffic cones guide drivers and indicate the new traffic direction.

Imagine a two-lane road where one lane is closed for roadworks. In a contraflow setup, vehicles from both directions share the remaining open lane, with traffic being carefully managed to avoid collisions.

Contraflow systems can also be found on motorways, where part of the carriageway is closed, and vehicles are redirected to use lanes on the opposite side of the central reservation.

The main goal of this traffic management strategy is to keep traffic moving smoothly, reduce congestion, and help with evacuation or emergency response efforts.

Contraflow system video tutorials

Getting ready for your theory test? You may be asked questions about contraflow systems in your DVSA driving theory test.

Driving Theory 4 All's online theory test practice platform and theory test app - Driving Theory Test Assistant - has everything you need to ace the theory test first time, including every contraflow system practice question.

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How does a contraflow system work?

A contraflow system is designed to allow traffic to flow the opposite way to its normal direction.

When used correctly, a contraflow system can minimise travel times and reduce delays.

The effectiveness of a contraflow system depends on various factors, including the length of the contraflow section, traffic volume, and driver behaviour.

A contraflow system typically includes:

  • Road signs and traffic signs: Contraflow road signs show the direction of travel and any specific rules or restrictions to keep traffic flowing.

  • Barriers: Physical barriers, such as barricades, concrete blocks or cones, separate the contraflow lanes to prevent drivers from crossing into oncoming traffic. They help prevent collisions and confusion.

  • Road markings: Road markings are clear and visible, showing drivers separate lanes and directions for traffic in the contraflow system.

  • Traffic signals: In some cases, traffic signals, such as temporary traffic lights, may be used to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

  • Reduced speed limit: Speed limits are often lowered in contraflow systems to ensure safe travel through the layout.

When driving in a contraflow system, pay close attention to road markings, signs, and barriers. This ensures that you are in the correct lane.

You'll find contraflow systems in various places, so be aware of the different contraflow signs.

If you see a contraflow system ahead, follow directions, move to the correct lane early, and keep a safe speed to ensure smooth traffic flow and road safety for all road users.

Where are contraflow systems typically used?

Contraflow systems are commonly used when lane closures are required. Contraflow systems are also used in bus lanes and cycle paths to make public transport and cycling more efficient.

Some examples of where you might see a contraflow system include:

  • On a dual carriageway or motorway during roadworks or accidents

  • Bus lanes

  • Cycle lanes

  • Events that require lane closures (e.g. parades, festivals)

Contraflow system on motorways

One of the most common places where you'll see a contraflow system is on a motorway or dual carriageway.

These systems are used to manage traffic flow when there is an incident, roadworks or ongoing construction taking place on one side of the carriageway.

A temporary contraflow system on a motorway and dual carriageway typically involves dividing the central reservation with barriers to create one or more lanes for vehicles travelling in the opposite direction. This helps keep traffic moving despite, reducing congestion.

This road sign tells you that a temporary contraflow system is in place on a motorway...

Contraflow systems on motorways

Contraflow bus lane

You may be asked about contraflow bus lanes when taking your theory test.

Contraflow bus lanes are a traffic management system that allows buses to travel in the opposite direction to other vehicles on one-way streets. This improves public transport efficiency and reduces bus journey times.

Barriers or road markings separate the bus lane from the rest of the road.

By enabling buses to travel in the opposite direction, contraflow bus lanes allow them to bypass congestion and reach their destinations faster.

This is what a contraflow bus lane sign looks like...

Contraflow bus lane

With-flow bus and cycle lanes

A with-flow system is the opposite of a contraflow system. You may be asked questions about with-flow bus and cycle lanes during your DVSA theory test.

Buses and cycles can use this lane and will move in the same direction as other traffic.

With-flow bus and cycle lane

Contraflow cycle lane

Contraflow cycle lane

Contraflow cycle lanes are similar to contraflow bus lanes but for bicycles, allowing cyclists to travel in the opposite direction of other traffic on one-way streets.

This is a more efficient way for cyclists to reach their destinations faster and reduces the risk of accidents.

When driving, you should be aware of contraflow cycle lanes and respect the safety of cyclists using them. Always maintain a safe distance, lower your speed limit if needed, and never cross the solid white line into their lane.

You might also see a sign for a combined contraflow bus and cycle lane.

Benefits of a contraflow system

Contraflow systems have many advantages, including:

  • Reduced congestion: A contraflow system operates to help keep traffic moving smoothly, reducing delays and avoiding gridlock.

  • Efficient use of road space: By allowing vehicles to travel in the opposite direction, contraflow systems make more efficient use of existing roads. For example, separate contraflow cycle lanes mean cyclists can use one-way roads safely and more efficiently.

  • Improved safety: Contraflow systems are designed with safety as a priority. Barriers and signs help prevent accidents and provide clarity, making it safer for all road users.

  • Faster journey times: When used correctly, contraflow systems can significantly reduce journey times for drivers, cyclists, and public transport users.

The contraflow system and the DVSA theory test

As a learner driver, it's essential to understand contraflow systems. You may be asked about them during your DVSA theory test.

This article has hopefully helped you learn about contraflow systems, where you might see one, and how to drive safely in them.

Do you need to revise for your theory test? Our Driving Theory Test Assistant app is the most complete and easy-to-use theory test app for learner drivers.

Download it for free and get access to the latest DVSA theory test questions, mock tests, and hazard perception videos.

Contraflow system theory test questions

Test your knowledge of contraflow systems with these DVSA theory test practice questions.

What should you do when going through a contraflow system on a motorway?

The correct answer is 'keep a good distance from the vehicle ahead'.

What would you expect to find at a contraflow system on a motorway?

The correct answer is 'lower speed limits'.

Where would you see a contraflow bus lane?

The correct answer is 'on a one-way street'.

Frequently asked questions about contraflow systems

A contraflow system is a temporary arrangement where traffic flows in the opposite direction to normal. It is commonly used on motorways for repairs, roadworks, or major accidents.

On a contraflow system, you would typically see barriers or road markings separating the lanes of traffic, as well as signs indicating a change in traffic flow.

You may also see lowered speed limits and extra caution signs. Additionally, you may encounter temporary lane closures or diversions to manage the contraflow system.

Contraflow bus lanes and cycle lanes are designed to improve traffic flow and increase safety. They help speed up bus routes, reduce congestion, and enhance the safety of cyclists by providing separate lanes in either direction.

Yes, driving safely through a contraflow system requires staying in the right lane, maintaining a safe distance, adhering to temporary speed limits, and being mindful of potential hazards.

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