Motorway is a term for both a type of road and a classification or designation. Motorways are high capacity roads designed to carry fast motor traffic safely. In the United Kingdom they are predominantly dual-carriageway roads, with a minimum of two lanes in each direction (typically three, and up to six on the Western section of the M25), and all have grade-separated access, comparable with North American freeways as a road type, and interstates as a classification.
In English-speaking countries the term is used in the United Kingdom, parts of Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, some other Commonwealth nations, and Ireland (a motorway is also called a mótarbhealach (plural: mótarbhealaí) in Irish). In Ireland, a road built to motorway standard, but without the designation (and the regulations and traffic restrictions resulting from that designation), is known as a High-quality dual carriageway.
In Ireland, Hungary and the UK, motorways are denoted by an 'M', prefixed (e.g. M1) or suffixed (e.g. A1(M)) road number and blue signage, distinguishing them from A-roads or N-roads, which are signed in green. This is at odds with some countries in Europe, where the colours are reversed. In New Zealand, motorways are distinguished from regular state highways with the word 'Motorway' on entrance signage. Historically, New Zealand's motorways had green signage while everywhere else had black, until green signage was spread to the entire State Highway network by Transit New Zealand.
The construction and surfacing of motorways is generally of a higher standard than conventional roads, and maintenance is carried out more frequently; in particular, motorways drain water very quickly to reduce hydroplaning/aquaplaning. The road surface is generally asphalt concrete (popularly referred to as tarmac) or portland cement concrete. Other features are crash barriers, cat's eyes and, increasingly, textured road markings (a similar concept to rumble-strips).
In the UK and the Republic of Ireland there are further restrictions:
Note that these only apply to roads directly designated as motorways. Roads may also be indirectly designated as such, see Inheritance below.
Traffic on a motorway is required to keep moving at all times, except in exceptional circumstances (cases where traffic queues have built up, the vehicle has broken down, or the driver has been instructed to stop by a police officer). A minimum speed limit of 50 km/h (30 mph) applies in the Republic of Ireland. Traffic lights are very rarely present on motorways, but where they are installed (for example, at Junction 3 of the M50 in Ireland), they must be obeyed as usual.
A motorway in the UK, whether by design or inheritance, must have a Statutory Instrument (SI) defining a stretch of road and sliproads as a special road under the Highways Act 1980. In the Republic of Ireland, a Motorway Scheme must be made under the Roads Act 1993 prior to the road's construction. Alternatively, a Statutory Instrument defining the strech of road as a motorway may also be made under the Roads Act 2007, however this process may only be used for high quality dual carriageways either open, in planning, or under construction on the day the Act was signed into law.
Motorway speed limits are generally higher than those on single-carriageway roads, and some types of vehicle, such as heavy goods vehicles, may be subject to lower limits.
UK motorways originally had no speed limit, and were designed for traffic travelling up to 100 mph (161 km/h). Although the design speed of 100 mph remains, the majority of UK motorways and dual carriageways are now subject to the national speed limit of 70 mph (113 km/h) for motorcars and motorcycles; some may have lower limits for various local reasons. A UK Department for Transport (DfT) study at several sites in 2006 showed that over half of all motorway traffic was travelling in excess of this limit. In 2004 the Conservative Party proposed increasing the motorway speed limit to 80 mph (129 km/h) on some stretches, although this did not appear in their 2005 election manifesto. Some road safety groups feel this would be a good idea, as it more closely represents the normal (and, they claim, safe) driving practice of the majority of motorway users.
In Ireland the speed limit for motorways and some dual-carriageways was changed from 70 mph to 120 km/h (75 mph) as part of the conversion to metric speed limits for roads on 20 January 2005.
In Pakistan, initially the speed limit on Motorway was 140 km/h (87 mph) for Light Vehicles and 120 km/h (75 mph) for Heavy Vehicles; however later it was restricted to 120 km/h (75 mph) for Light Vehicles and 110 km/h (68 mph) for Heavy Vehicles.
In New Zealand the speed limit on motorways and other dual carriageways is normally the top limit for state highways, 100 km/h (62 mph), with restrictions in some areas, such as the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Central Motorway Junction (both have limits of 80 km/h (50 mph)).
Germany has no general speed limit on its motorways (Autobahn); there are only particular speed limits e.g. at dangerous sections, sections with traffic jam hazards, road works or at some motorways through cities.
Most motorway carriageways comprise a main running surface, with a hard shoulder along one edge, and a median or central reservation separating it from the other carriageway along the other edge. The hard shoulder is generally provided for use in emergencies, such as breakdowns, only. However the M42 in the UK has recently introduced a system whereby a small section of the hard shoulder can be used as an extra lane during busy periods.
The nearside edge (the edge up against the hard shoulder) of the running surface is marked with a solid white line, or in Ireland, a solid yellow line. The offside edge of the running surface (the edge nearest to the median) is marked with a solid white line. The running surface is divided into lanes by white dashed lines. On the M42 in the UK, the hard shoulder line is not textured because it is frequently used as a running lane.
In the UK and Ireland the lanes in a given direction are numbered sequentially from the nearside (hard shoulder) as lane 1, lane 2, lane 3, etc.
The lane closest to the hard shoulder is generally intended for normal steady driving, while the other lane or lanes, those closer to the median, are intended for overtaking or passing slower-moving vehicles. Vehicles are expected to use the nearside-most lane which is clear. The Highway Code for the UK states that vehicles must pass on the right, unless in heavy traffic or when turning left. Similar rules apply on German autobahns and in some other countries. In heavy traffic it may be acceptable to cruise in any lane and to pass slower vehicles on either side to avoid constant lane changes.
The most basic motorway junction is a two-lane flyover with four slip-roads, two on each side of the motorway, to exit or enter. A simple crossroads or roundabout is present at each end of the flyover. A rather large version of a roundabout, using two curved flyovers, is sometimes used to present a single large junction for users of the slip-roads or crossing road. The slip roads leading off the motorway are known as 'exit sliproads', those leading onto the motorway as 'entry sliproads'. The precise sliproad at any junction may be identified by reference to the direction of the carriageway, for example 'northbound entry slip'.
The signal-controlled roundabout is often used in these situations and has become very common in Ireland. A far greater degree of complexity is present in Britain, with varying types of Spaghetti Junction-style interchanges.The M50 Western Parkway in Dublin is going through a major upgrade with spaghetti style junctions being introduced to relieve traffic congestion.
Motorway junctions are usually given a number, indicated in the UK and in Ireland with a white number on a black background in the corner of signs approaching that junction. The same junction number is used in both directions on the motorway. Sometimes, where a junction is newly inserted between two existent junctions, it will be given a letter also (e.g. 2A). In Ireland, the junction numbering has only been used consistently on the M50 since it was opened, however a junction numbering scheme is now being applied to all motorways. This has necessitated certain junctions being renumbered on the M7 (and, in future, on the M4). In Auckland, New Zealand, exit numbers are distance-based, and are indicated by a green sign reading "Exit XXX" (e.g. Exit 441) on top of exit signage.
In Ireland, when two motorways meet, it is often the end point/start point of one of the motorways. The motorway that is ending usually blends into the other at a restricted junction, permitting traffic to exit and enter the motorway from one direction only. Examples of this are the M4/M6 junction, the M7/M9 junction, and the under-construction M8/M7 junction. These junctions cause frustration for many road users, who must travel to the next available junction and then change direction to use the restricted exit.
In Britain there are plans to improve many motorways as well as to upgrade some roads to motorway status. In Ireland, the National Roads Authority has been connecting main cities with motorways as part of a six-year National Development Plan. The European Union has part-funded many motorway projects in the past, as part of a Trans-European Transport Networks, and there are plans to invest billions of euro in such projects in the next ten years.
One of the most recently constructed motorways in the UK is the M6 Toll, bypassing Birmingham and Wolverhampton, which opened in 2004 and is the only completely toll motorway in England. There are tolled sections of motorway on the M4 and M48, where they cross the River Severn at the Severn crossings. Although the crossing of the River Thames east of London on the M25 is tolled, the bridge and tunnels themselves are officially designated the A282 to permit usage by non-motorway traffic. In Ireland, the M1, M4, and M50 are all tolled with sections of the M6 and M7 likely to face tolls also in the future. The M8 consists of two parts (at present), one of which is also tolled (designated M8(Toll) on signs).
In all cases, there must be an escape route for traffic not wishing or not permitted to enter the motorway. As a result, the motorway technically begins as soon as the escape route has diverged from it; for example at a grade-separated junction, the motorway starts at the junction with the exiting slip road, and the opposite slip road is also part of the motorway for this and the following reason. An exception was the A1(M) near Leeds, which was "illegal", as pedestrians could legally cross 300 yards from the start, but cyclists and other types of traffic not permitted on motorways had no way of turning back - the escape route was the Boot & Shoe a mile before. This is remedied by the A1(M) extension. On some maps the start was disguised or covered so people could not see the blunder.
As a result, this creates a less-restrictive set of rules for the standard of the road. Roads whose only destination is a motorway must be assigned motorway status, notwithstanding the possibility of their not being built to normal motorway standards. For example, the A48(M) motorway outside Cardiff begins after the last exit to St Mellons, since by staying on the dual carriageway you cannot get anywhere other than the M4 eastbound; however, it is a motorway-grade highway.
In Scotland, where the Scottish Office rather than the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation had the decision, there is no zonal pattern, but rather the A-road rule is strictly enforced. It was decided to reserve the numbers 7, 8 & 9 for Scotland. The M8 follows the route of the A8, and the M85 became part of the M90 when the A90 was re-routed along the path of the A85.
In Northern Ireland a separate numbering system was used. There is no known explanation for it.
In Ireland, motorway and national road numbering is quite different to the UK convention. Since the passage of the Roads Act 1993, all motorways are part of, or form, national primary roads. These routes are numbered in series, (usually, radiating anti-clockwise from Dublin, starting with the N1/M1) using numbers from 1 to 33 (and, separately from the series, 50). Motorways use the number of the route of which they form part, with an M prefix rather than N for national road (or in theory, rather than R for regional road). In most cases, the motorway has been built as a bypass of a road previously forming the national road (e.g. M7 bypassing roads previously forming the N7) - the bypassed roads are reclassified as regional roads, although updated signposting may not be provided for some time, and adherence to signage colour conventions is lax (regional roads have black-on-white directional signage, national routes use white-on-green).
Under the previous legislation, the Local Government (Roads and Motorways) Act 1974, motorways theoretically existed independently to national roads, however the short sections of motorway opened during this act, except for the M50, always took their number from the national road which they were bypassing. The older road was not downgraded at this point (indeed, regional roads were not legislated for at this stage). Older signage at certain junctions on the M7 and M11 can be seen reflecting this earlier scheme, where for example "N11" and "M11" can be seen coexisting.
The M50, an entirely new national road, is an exception to the normal inheritance process, as it does not replace a road previously carrying an "N" number. The M50 was nevertheless legislated in 1994 as the "N50" route (despite having no non-motorway sections). The M50's designation was chosen as a recognisable unique number. As of 2008 the N34 is the next unused national primary road designation. In theory, a motorway in Ireland could form part of a regional road.
On 30 August 2008, the eFlow "barrier free" tolling system was introduced on the M50. Like other eToll systems, it allows cashless payment on all of Ireland's toll roads. eFlow uses overhead cameras and detectors to read electronic tags or number plates on vehicles. Electronic tags can be obtained from other providers - MiniTag, Eazy Pass, eTrip, Eirtag, PassDirect and Tolltag.
In New Zealand, as well as in the Scandinavian countries, motorway numbers are also derived from the state highway route which they form a part of, but unlike Hungary and Ireland they are not distinguished from non motorway sections of the same state highway route. In the cases where a motorway acts as a bypass of a state highway route, the original state highway is either stripped of that status or renumbered (as in the case of the Auckland Northern Motorway extension from Albany to Silverdale, north of Auckland, where the new motorway was designated as part of State Highway 1, while the old state highway one route linking Albany to Silverdale was designated State Highway 17).
Motorway service areas, motorway service stations or simply motorway services are, as in the rest of the world, places where drivers can leave a motorway to refuel, rest, or take refreshments. Almost all motorway services in the UK are owned by the Department for Transport and let on 50-year leases to private operating companies.
Food sold at motorway services is notoriously expensive (although discounts are frequently available; for instance, MOD (Ministry of Defence) and The AA breakdown members receive a little-publicised 20% discount on products in the retail outlets (AA Only) and in the restaurant and BK Units at Moto service stations on production of their membership card). This is often attributed to the fact that, under the terms of their leases, motorway services must provide free short-term parking and free toilet facilities and adequate provision for the sale of food and fuel; also, the vast majority of motorway services in the UK are owned by one of three companies: Moto, Welcome Break and RoadChef and a developing chain of stations being constructed by Extra. Another factor may be that, unlike in other countries, the companies must pay the full cost of constructing the entry and exit ramps and all other required features for safe access to motorway services, as well as the motorway services facility itself. In other countries, the authority responsible for the highway tends to subsidise these costs on the grounds that these areas are partly a public service to drivers. The leases provide that motorway services must operate 24 hours a day, and the costs of providing utilities and services are high. With very few customers in the early morning, they need to earn the money in other ways.
Services are prohibited from selling alcohol as this might encourage drink driving. However many now have video game areas and gambling areas with fruit machines and other electronic devices. Some service stations also have hotels next to them offering motorists cheap overnight accommodation.
The Republic of Ireland does not yet have motorway service areas – initially the National Roads Authority opposed them on the grounds that it preferred to see traffic using existing businesses in bypassed towns, and that the motorway network was not large enough for them anyway. However in 2006 it changed its mind, and the Roads Act 2007 makes provision for a Motorway Service Area Scheme to be made for proposed motorway service areas. The NRA is currently involved in a process to determine an operator for the first round of service areas to be opened
New Zealand's first motorway opened in December 1950 near Wellington. This 5 kilometre (3 mile) motorway now forms part of the Johnsonville-Porirua Motorway and State Highway 1. Auckland's first stretch of motorway was opened in 1953 between Ellerslie and Mount Wellington (between present-day Exit 435 and Exit 438), and now forms part of the Southern Motorway.
Northern Ireland developed their own network of motorways. Legal authority existed in the Special Roads Act (Northern Ireland) 1963 similar to that in the 1949 Act. The first motorway to open was the M1 motorway, though it did so under temporary powers until the Special Roads Act had been passed. Work on the motorways continued until the 1970s when the oil crisis and The Troubles both intervened causing the abandonment of many schemes. The final scheme to open has been the M3.
In the Republic of Ireland the Local Government (Roads and Motorways) Act 1974 made motorways possible, although the first section, the M7 Naas Bypass, did not open until 1983. The first section of the M50 opened in 1990, a part of which was Ireland's first toll motorway, the West-Link. However it would be the 1990s before substantial sections of motorway were opened in Ireland, with the first completed motorway - the 83km M1 motorway - being finished in 2005.
Under the Transport 21 infrastructural plan, motorways or high quality dual carriageways are being built between Dublin and the major cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford by the end of 2010. Other shorter sections of motorway either have been or will be built on some other main routes. In 2007 legislation (the Roads Bill 2007) was proposed to allow existing roads be designated motorways by order. Current legislation only allows for new build roads to be designated motorways. It is now intended that all the HQDCs on the major inter-urbans - other than some sections near Dublin on the N4 and N7 which do not fully meet motorway standards - will be reclassified as motorway. The first stage in this process will occur when all the HQDC schemes currently open or under construction on the N7, N8, and N9, and between Kinnegad and Athlone on the N6, are reclassified motorway on 24 September 2008.
Pakistan has a network of high-quality international-standard limited-access motorways, which are maintained and operated by the National Highway Authority. In 2008, operational motorways in Pakistan had a combined length of 575 km, with more than 1,000 km of further motorways under construction or planned.
Pakistan's motorways are either six-lanes or four-lanes and are 'limited-access' with a universal minimum speed limit of 80 km/h and a maximum speed limit of 100 km/h for heavy transport vehicles and 120 km/h for light transport vehicles. They have a concrete central median and are fenced on the outside for safety and to prevent unauthorized access.
Pakistan's first motorway, the M2, was completed in 1997 and was the first motorway to be built in South Asia. The contract was awarded to the Korean firm Daewoo. It has six-lanes and links the federal capital Islamabad with Punjab's provincial capital Lahore and its length is 367 km. Since then, the network has been further extended to Faisalabad with the M3, which has four-lanes and a length of 53 km. The M1 from Islamabad to the North-West Frontier Province's capital Peshawar was completed in 2007. It has six-lanes and a length of 154 km.
More motorways are being planned in Pakistan and some are also being built by local as well as foreign firms. M8 will link Gwadar with other central and South Asian countries. M9 will link Hyderabad with Karachi.
Entry Restrictions On all the motorways in Pakistan, entry is restricted to fast moving vehicles only. Two wheelers (motorcycles and bicycles) and slow moving traffic modes are not allowed. However Motorway Police personnel use heavy motor bikes for patrolling purposes. Construction and agricultural machinery is also restricted.
List of Motorways in