United Kingdom Road Network

By | December 25, 2022


According to wholevehicles, the UK’s motorway network is quite small, with approximately 3,200 kilometers of motorway, considerably lower than in other major European countries. The highways almost all have 2×3 lanes or more, and are extremely busy, with long-haul highways consistently handling traffic volumes of more than 100,000 vehicles per day. The M25 forms a 188 km long ring road around the capital London, with a radial network of motorways from there. Larger motorway networks are also located in the Birmingham, Manchester-Liverpool and Leeds-Sheffield region. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have a more limited motorway network. There are no motorways at all in the north of Scotland, as in most of Wales.

In the United Kingdom the term ‘ expressway ‘ does not exist as a legal term, but is sometimes used for dual carriageways which have the characteristics of motorways. There are plans to introduce a new road class expressway that will eventually have motorway status.

Motorways in the United Kingdom
M1 • M2 • M3 • M4 • M5 • M6 • M6 Toll • M8 • M9 • M11 • M18 • M20 • M23 • M25 • M26 • M27 • M32 • M40 • M42 • M45 • M48 • M49 • M50 • M53 • M54 • M55 • M56 •M57 • M58 • M60 • M61 • M62 • M65 • M66 • M67 • M69 • M73 • M74 • M77 • M80 • M90 • M180 • M181 • M271 • M275 • M602 • M606 • M621 • M876 • M898Northern Ireland: M1 • M2 • M3 • M5 • M12 • M22


In addition to the Motorways, there is a fairly extensive network of dual carriageways: A-roads that often have 2×2 lanes over longer distances, but are characterized by roundabouts and the lack of emergency lanes. Those roads cannot therefore be regarded as motorways. A-roads that are classified as motorways are given the suffix (M), for example A1 (M). Particularly in the east of the United Kingdom there are many 2×2 A roads.

As of 1 January 2013, there were approximately 2,780 kilometers of dual carriageway with at least 2×2 lanes and grade-separated intersections in the United Kingdom.

A-roads in Great Britain
A1 • A2 • A3 • A4 • A5 • A6 • A7 • A8 • A9 • A10 • A11 • A12 • A13 • A14 • A15 • A16 • A17 • A18 • A19 • A20 • A21 • A22 • A23 • A24 • A25 • A26 • A27 •A28 • A29 • A30 • A31 • A32 • A33 • A34 • A35 • A36 • A37 • A38 • A39 • A40 • A41 • A42 • A43 • A44 • A45 • A46 • A47 • A48 • A49 • A50 • A51 • A52 • A53 • A54• A55 • A56 • A57 • A58 • A59 • A60 • A61 • A62 • A63 • A64 • A65 • A66 • A67 • A68 • A69 • A70 • A71 • A72 • A73 • A74 • A75 • A76 • A77 • A78 • A79 • A80 •A81 • A82 • A83 • A84 • A85 • A86 • A87 • A88 • A89 • A90 • A91 • A92 • A93 • A94 • A95 • A96 • A97 • A98 • A99
A102 • A127 • A180 • A229 • A249 • A256 • A282 • A380 •A404 • A406 • A431 • A477 • A483
A-roads in Northern Ireland
A1 • A2 • A3 • A4 • A5 • A6 • A7 • A8 • A11 • A12 • A20 • A21 • A22 • A23 • A24 • A25 • A26 • A27 • A28 • A29 • A30 • A31 • A32 • A34 • A35 • A36 • A37 •A38 • A40 • A42 • A43 • A44 • A45 • A46 • A47 • A48 • A49 • A50 • A51 • A52 • A54 • A55 • A57 • A76 • A101 • A211 • A371 • A501 • A505 • A509 • A512 • A513 • A514 • A515• A519 • A520 • A522 • A523

B&C roads

The secondary road network consists of B and C roads, which usually only have an interurban function. They are sometimes built to a high standard, but mostly they are single-lane roads.

European roads

Although the United Kingdom is part of UNECE, which regulates European roads, the E-roads in the United Kingdom are not signposted anywhere. So they are purely administrative and unknown to the population.

European roads in the United Kingdom
E1 • E5 • E13 • E15 • E16 • E18 • E20 • E22 • E24 • E30 • E32



In 1920 the road fund was established, which was financed by an excise tax on vehicles. Traffic started to increase in the 1920s, but the road network was often in poor condition. Unemployment was high after the First World War, after which a program to reduce unemployment through road construction was carried out twice in the 1920s. By 1935, 800 kilometers of bypasses had opened, about half the target number of bypasses. In 1934, the first high-quality interurban road with a separation of fast and slow traffic was completed at Liverpool. During the 1930s the first plans were drawn up for a motorway network and the then minister of transport visited Germany to see the construction of the Autobahn. However, the start of the construction of the highways was delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war plans were again made for a national highway network. In 1949 special legislation was passed that made it possible to obtain a right of way.

First highways

The UK’s first motorway was the Preston Bypass in 1958, today part of the M6. The United Kingdom was one of the last Western European countries to build its first motorway, the Netherlands and Germany were more than 20 years earlier. The first long-haul motorway to open was the M1 between London and Rugby. The first highways were unique because they had 2×3 lanes right from the opening, at the time for traffic volumes of barely 20,000 vehicles per day. Building highways with 2×3 lanes turned out to be a design standard. In 1962 the first motorway in Northern Ireland, the M1 opened.

Highway Revolts

In the early 1960s, plans were made for urban highways, because it was expected that traffic would explode and the accessibility of cities would deteriorate sharply. Deteriorated accessibility, it was argued, would disadvantage Britain’s competitive position. In 1966, the design standards were modified to cut costs by narrowing verges and the redress lanealong the median strip. This would save about 22,000 pounds per mile. During the 1960s, highways were built en masse, a construction scheme similar to that in the Netherlands. By 1972, the first 1,000 miles (1,609 km) of highways had been completed. Long-haul highways continued to be built throughout the 1970s, but planned urban highway construction regularly met with local resistance, similar to the Freeway revolts in the United States. As a result of this resistance, a series of 5 ring roads around the capital London was cancelled. In the late 1970s, the pace of construction slowed down, partly due to the oil crises and a period known as “the troubles”, the Northern Ireland conflict.


Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1979 took a more pro-road stance. During that period, several motorways were widened and the M25 around London completed. Between 1985 and 1995, the road network increased by 24,000 miles, but the highway network did not grow as quickly. In 1994 a large number of road projects were canceled due to the recession. Construction of the M3 was significantly delayed under pressure from violent protests. Partly due to the extra integration requirements, the costs of highway construction rose by 50 – 100%, giving the government less room to build new roads or to widen existing ones. The UK’s last new motorway was the M3in Northern Ireland in 1994. In 1996, the motorway network was 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) long, considering the country’s population density to be particularly sparse compared to countries such as France, Germany or Italy. After Labor came to power in 1997, almost all existing plans were called off. Between 1980 and 2005, traffic increased by 80%, while road capacity increased by only 10%.


The British motorway network is in principle toll-free, but tolls are charged for some river crossings, such as the Humber Bridge, the Dartford Crossing and numerous local bridges. The only regular long-distance toll road is the M6 ​​Toll at Birmingham. The roads in the United Kingdom are paid for from taxes such as fuel duty and road tax. Foreign trucks have been paying the HGV road user levy since 2014.

Traffic intensities

In general, traffic intensities are high, also outside the cities. In contrast, main axes in the British road network have been developed with at least 2×3 lanes and are often adequate to cope with the traffic volumes. In and around the major cities, the intensities are not particularly high. Motorways are located quite far outside the urban cores, as they are clearly built for through traffic. The highest intensity is 210,000 vehicles per day on the M25 on the west side of London. At other locations, the intensities rarely exceed 150,000 mvt/day.

Road management

Road management in the United Kingdom has largely devolved into the ‘constituent countries’ Of the United Kingdom: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. National cases are handled by the Department for Transport, but many cases are handled in the constituent countries.

The motorways and A-roads are managed by the constituent countries, in England it is Highways England (formerly: Highways Agency), in Scotland it is Transport Scotland.

Speed ​​limits

Vmax mph
(48 km/h)
(97 km/h), if 2×2: (113 km/h)
(113 km/h)

The 70 mph limit applies on all roads outside built-up areas, provided the road consists of two carriageways with at least two lanes each (dual carriageways).

Since 1965, the UK has been subject to a 70 mph (113 km/h) speed limit on motorways. Before that, there was no general speed limit. In late 1973 and 1974, a 50 mph (80 km/h) speed limit was in effect on motorways due to the oil crisis. Since 1991, 20 mph (32 km/h) has been applied on residential streets. On 6 April 2015, the speed limits for trucks were increased from 40 to 50 mph on non-urban roads and from 50 to 60 mph on dual carriageways.

City limits Outside the bowl dual carriageway Motorway
Cars and Motorcycles 30 mph (48 kph) 60 mph (97 kph) 70 mph (113 kph) 70 mph (113 kph)
Cars with trailer 30 mph (48 kph) 50 mph (80 kph) 60 mph (97 kph) 60 mph (97 km/)
Buses, trucks up to 7.5 tons 30 mph (48 kph) 50 mph (80 kph) 60 mph (97 kph) 70 mph (113 kph)
Trucks over 7.5 tons 30 mph (48 kph) 50 mph (80 kph) 60 mph (97 kph) 60 mph (97 kph)

Compared to the rest of Europe, the speed limit on motorways is quite low. Outside built-up areas, however, 97 km/h applies, which is quite high. Heavy trucks are allowed to drive at 97 km/h on motorways in the United Kingdom, the highest permitted speed in Europe. However, many trucks cannot reach this speed due to the speed limiter.


Year Bibeko Bubeko Motorway
1865 2 mph 4 mph N/A
1896 14 mph 14 mph N/A
1903 20 mph No N/A
1931 No No N/A
1935 30 mph No No
1965 30 mph 70 mph 70 mph
1977 30 mph 60 mph 70 mph


Signage on a Primary Route.

The signage in the country differs from the rest of Europe in certain points, primarily because you drive on the left and the signs are therefore designed accordingly, and E numbers are not indicated. Welsh is also indicated in Wales, usually in a slightly different color, so that all targets are shown twice on the signage. The choice of control cities is usually clear, but often a bit too regionalised, long-range targets are not always indicated where one would expect this.


Motorways have blue signs with white letters. Road numbers are indicated in plain text, so not with a shield or in a frame. In addition, cardinal directions are regularly indicated such as “The North” and “The South”, or areas such as “The Midlands” or “Wales”. Portal boards are fairly unique because the boards come in different sizes and the remaining surfaces are given a gray background. Arrows are not on the signs, but hang lower below, usually with Motorway Traffic Managementmatrix boards in between. This gives portal signs a particularly ungainly appearance. However, the signage is consistent. Fork plates do not have a heart arrow, but only a point and of course point to the left. The font is the “Transport” font and is in plain text, not capitals. Only cardinal directions are written in capitals. Exit numbers are in a black box, and are therefore easy to distinguish.

Primary Routes

The signage on Primary Routes (non-motorways) consists of green signs with white and yellow road numbers, with white text. References to Motorways are shown in a blue box, so there is a color difference from the underlying road network to the highway, but not the other way around. Indirect references are indicated in parentheses, for example “(A23)”. The signage is generally quite clear. Primary Routes connect Primary Destinations with each other.

Non-Primary Routes

Local signage, in English and Scottish Gaelic.

Local roads have white signs with black letters, which are mainly seen in rural and urban areas. Hand pointers are similar to those of Israel, for example.

Road numbering

There are two road numbering systems in the UK, an integrated system in England, Wales and Scotland and a separate system in Northern Ireland. The highways are Motorways and have the prefix M. After that, the road network is divided into A, B and C roads, decreasing in importance. A-roads that have motorway standards are given the suffix (M), for example A1(M).

Car taxes

As in most countries, there are several ways to tax car ownership and use in the UK. Toll roads are rare, but there are congestion zones in London and Durham. It is striking that no distinction is (any longer) made in usage taxes between petrol and diesel. Diesel is more expensive in the United Kingdom than the Netherlands, petrol is cheaper. About 1/19th of the car taxes goes back to the maintenance and expansion of the main road network.

Fuel tax

In the United Kingdom there is a fixed amount per 1000 m³ of fuel, which must be paid as excise duty. This was GBP 0.5419 for both diesel and petrol. On top of this is VAT, called VAT (Value-added tax) in the United Kingdom. This was approximately € 0.65 per liter in 2010, slightly lower than in the Netherlands. The VAT in the country is 15%. In 2009, fuel excise revenue in the UK was GBP 25.9 billion, approximately €34.9 billion.

Motor vehicle tax

An annual road tax is levied. Before 2001 this was based on engine size, but thereafter on the basis of CO2 emissions, in a number of classes from A to M. Vehicles up to 100 grams per kilometer are exempt. For 2007, a distinction was made between diesel and petrol. For cars that emit a lot, the tax doubled between 2007 and 2010. A vehicle emitting 150 g/km pays £145 per year. In 2014, UK government revenues were GBP 5.8 billion.

Congestion Charge

Since 2002 a fixed congestion charge has to be paid in Durham and since 2003 in London, in London that is GBP 11.50 per day. The intention was to reduce traffic jams, but the effect faded within a few years. Traffic is negligibly lower, especially outside rush hour. The Dartford Crossing east of London is a toll bridge/tunnel, which was paid off in 2003. However, to keep the traffic volume low, the toll has been maintained. Since 2014 this is the electronic ‘Dart Charge’.

Registration Tax

In 2008 there was a £55 registration tax on the first registration of a vehicle.

Toll roads

There are a limited number of toll roads in the UK, mostly river crossings. The only regular toll road is the M6 ​​Toll at Birmingham. Over the years, there have been proposals to introduce a national toll system. Trucks pay the HGV road user levy.

Comparison with the Netherlands

Compared to the Netherlands, driving in the United Kingdom is considerably cheaper, there is no BPM, a considerably lower motor vehicle tax and petrol prices are slightly lower than in the Netherlands. However, commuting to Central London is expensive, with 250 working days a year you have to pay 2,000 pounds.

Modal split

Share in passenger kilometers in 2010.

Modality Part
Car 84.7%
Train 8.2%
Local public transport* 7.1%

Number of passenger kilometers in 2010 (converted from miles).

Modality Travelerkm
Car 524.6 billion
Train 50.5 billion
Local public transport* 44.2 billion

* including Bus in London, Other local bus, Non-local bus, London Underground and Surface Rail.

Road safety

Year Road fatalities
2010 1,905
2011 1960
2012 1,802
2013 1,769
2014 1,807
2015 1,854
2016 1,878
2017 1,783
2018 1,839
2019 1,926

In 2010, there were 31 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants in the United Kingdom, a decrease of 47 percent compared to 2001. The United Kingdom thus belonged to the top 3 most road-safe countries in the European Union. Since 2010, however, the number of road deaths has fallen slightly. In 2015, there were 29 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants, making the country one of the top 3 safest countries in the EU. The number of road deaths per 1 million inhabitants is also significantly lower than the other large countries in Europe, such as Germany, France and Italy.

United Kingdom Road Network