Motorways, A Roads and Carriageways-Everything You Need to Know

Picture courtesy of Sean MacEntee, via Flickr Creative Commons.


Britain began to classify their roads in the 1920s when it started to become clear that a system was needed for motorists. The system was used to help identify the best driving routes. During the 1960s, the system was reconstructed to deal with the higher number of cars and passengers on the roads.

If it’s time for you to learn how to drive, the first thing to focus on is the Highway Code, specifically the different road classifications and some basic rules of the road, such as the following.

What is a Motorway?

A motorway is a road with two or more carriageways designed to higher standards with controlled access.

What is an A Road?

A roads are major roads designed to provide large-scale transport links within or between areas. They are one of the four main categories of UK roads, with the others being B roads, classified unnumbered and unclassified.

These classifications are designed to provide guidelines for the different types of traffic in the country and make the roads less congested, less frustrating and safer. An A road is generally the widest, most direct road found in an area. It is typically the most important for through traffic.

What Is the Difference Between an A Road and a Motorway?

Motorways are classified as Specialty Roads with certain types of traffic being prohibited from using them while A roads are part of the main four categories in the roads classification system. Typically, roads with two or more carriageways are classified as motorways but this is not always the case.

In regards to driving, much more skill and confidence is needed before hoping onto a motorway. They’re usually reserved for much longer journeys and your vehicle should be in great shape for the trip.

What Is a Dual Carriage?

Dual carriageways are very similar to motorways but typically used for shorter, quick journeys. You’re more likely to travel on a dual carriageway when running errands and staying in your local area. A dual carriageway is a class of road with carriageways for traffic, each traveling the opposite direction of the other. They are separated by a central reservation.

What Are the Motorway Speed Limits?

The speed limit on motorways is 70 mph. It is the same for dual carriageways. The single carriageway speed limit is 60 mph. Restricted roads have a speed limit of 30 mph. The high speed limit on motorways is one of the main reasons why they are not for brand new drivers and should only be utilized once the driver is completely educated on driving rules and has the confidence to remain calm.

How Many Motorways Are in The UK?

There are about 50 motorways in the UK, many of which have an interesting history. The first motorway in the UK was the Preston Bypass in Lancashire. It opened in 1958 and is now part of the M6 motorway. The M1 was the first full length motorway in England and opened in 1959. There are about 10 motorways that were planned but never built and there are typically several motorways under construction at any given time. The system is always being expanded and improved to keep up with the needs of drivers throughout the country.

Do UK Motorways Have Speed Cameras

Yes, UK motorways do utilize speed cameras. In fact, there are 13 different types of speed cameras in use throughout the country. Not all are used on motorways but you might come across the following during your travels.

HADECS 3: These are the latest speed cameras to be installed on sections of smart motorways in the UK. They can be found on the M25 in Kent with more locations planned on the M1, M3 and M6. The cameras are incredibly small and painted a grey color instead of yellow, making them very difficult for drivers to see. In its first month of operation, the camera on the M25 caught 668 motorists speeding.

Variable Speed Cameras: Found on the M1, M25 and M62, variable speed cameras are not in use all day. They are typically used when the speed limit is temporarily lowered due to weather conditions, congestion or accidents. These cameras sit on overhead gantries above each lane which means that each lane could have its own camera. Keep in mind though that these cameras are only used during times of necessity. Other cameras are relied on to operate on a regular basis to monitor speeding and driving practices.

What Is the Traffic Officer Service?

The Highway England Traffic Officer Serve works alongside police on motorways. The organization was formed in 2003 and helps to reduce congestion caused by accidents. They are owned by the government and have extended remit and powers.

They work in crews of two and wear high-visibility jackets with orange and yellow markings. They must wear steel toe cap boots and be provided with gloves and safety goggles if needed. They patrol the motorway in an easy to recognize vehicle that is able to tow or clear a broken down vehicle. They are ideal for inclement weather and can remain mobile in snow or flood conditions.

The Traffic Officers are able to keep the flow of traffic moving and make motorways safer for everyone by keeping the roads open and free of debris.

What Power Do Traffic Officers Have?

Highway Traffic Officers do not have the power to pull vehicles over for speeding or other offences. They do have the power to stop traffic if there is an accident or other situation that puts the public in danger. It is required to stop for a Traffic Officer if they are attempting to halt traffic or redirect it. Ignoring such requests can result in a fine and/or up to six points on your licence.

There are plenty of rules to remember when operating a motor vehicle. But once you understand some of the basic guidelines, such as types of roads and safety protocols, you’re better equipped to handle yourself in almost any situation.