Special Road status is a classification given to certain roads in the UK. You may wonder that you have never heard of the term, especially since it does not appear on any signage. However, chances are that your regular commute to work or a weekend away will involve you driving along such a road.
The reason for it not appearing on signage is because Special Road status is a legal term. It is basically a road that has restrictions imposed upon it - all motorways are Special Roads. In effect, it is the more formal legal term for a motorway, yet not all Special Roads are motorways.
Background to the idea
The constant growth in vehicle numbers was resulting in more congestion and an increase in the number of accidents. New roads were being constructed, but better roads were needed - roads that were safer, faster and had fewer junctions.
-To do this, there needed to be restrictions put in place. No slow vehicles, no houses or shops and no "at-grade" junctions. Also restrictions would be needed to restrict utility companies from laying cables and pipes along most of the road.
However, for this to be allowed, right of way status would need to be revoked.
The passing of the Special Roads Act of 1949 meant that Parliament could grant permission for roads to be constructed, but not designating them as a right of way. However, this would technically mean nobody can use the road - to get around this, a Statutory Order (nowadays known as a Statutory Instrument) would need to be approved, outlining the proposed route and stating what classes of vehicle can use it:
|- Class I||Motor vehicles and motorbikes with pneumatic tyres (and can do over 20mph)|
|- Class II||Goods vehicles and military vehicles|
|- Class III||Motor vehicles controlled by pedestrians|
|- Class IV||All other motor vehicles|
|- Class V||Vehicles drawn by animals|
|- Class VI||Vehicles drawn by pedestrians|
|- Class VII||Pedal cycles|
|- Class VIII||Animals ridden or led|
|- Class IX||Pedestrians|
|The Highways Act 1980 saw the introduction of two additional classes:|
|- Class X||Motorcycles under 50cc and mopeds|
|- Class XI||Invalid carriages|
The Special Roads Act was later incorporated into the Highways Act 1959 (later superseded by the Highways Act 1980), which also banned learner drivers (usually excluding HGV learners). The legislation also made it an offence to stop for any reason, except in an emergency or due to a queue, or unless a police officer, traffic officer or signals gave an instruction to do so.
The originally planned roads
A small number of road projects were incorporated into the Special
Roads Act 1949, these being the first schemes to be granted this new status:
- Stevenage Bypass (opened 1962, as part of A1(M))
- Severn Bridge and approaches (opened 1966, as part of M4)
- Hayesgate to Crick Trunk Road (opened 1966, as part of M4)
- Newport Bypass (opened 1967, as part of M4)
Motorways as special roads
As previously mentioned, Special Road status must be applied to all motorways; this includes exit and entry slip roads. Statutory Instruments (SI) covering motorways typically only allow Classes I and II to use the road.
However, as with most things, there is are exceptions... the Severn Bridge is the most notable. The SI also grants access to Class IX vehicles. Yes, pedestrians are allowed on the bridge! However, there is a barrier keeping pedestrians away from the speeding traffic using the M48. Class VII, X and XI vehicles are also allowed to use the footway, but the SI makes no mention of class VIII, so it doesn't look like you can walk your dog along the bridge!
Despite not being a right of way, speed limits do not need to be included the SI, as they are set by the Motorways Traffic (Speed Limit) Regulations of 1974, which state a maximum speed of 70mph for most vehicles, with HGVs and vehicles towing trailers or caravans being limited to 60mph. Of course, there is an exception, which is where a lower speed limit needs to be imposed. These regulations were introduced as the National Speed Limit would otherwise not apply because it only covers rights of way - the regulations extend the limit to motorways.
In Scotland, different regulations mean that the 70mph speed limit must be signposted at all motorway entry points.
Although most special roads are motorways, some are not. Most non-motorway versions are toll bridges, but there are some seemingly normal roads which are... well, special! These are generally high quality dual carriageways, often referred to as "Expressways". One term often used to describe them is "Secret Motorway", as they are effectively a motorway, but without the blue signs.
Again, because these roads are not designated as rights of way, their speed limits must be shown If not, there would be no enforceable speed limit. It often means the rare use of a 70mph sign, which looks unusual, especially when it is on the same pole as a National Speed Limit sign facing the other way! Even the footway on the Severn Bridge has a 15mph limit.
There are a number of non-motorway Special Roads across the country. There is no defined list available, but there aren't that many anyway.
Non-motorway Special Roads are found on these roads:
|A1||Expressway in East Lothian between Tranent and Dunbar, which runs parallel (and bypasses) the old A1, now A199.|
|A12 (NI)||The Westlink in Belfast, which was originally meant to have been a motorway anyway! Only cyclists and pedestrians are banned from using this road.|
|A55||Well constructed route along the Colwyn Bay seafront, through a cutting. A 50mph limit is in force here, however, due to some tight turns and a lack of hard shoulder.|
|A55||High quality section of route passing over the top of Llandudno Junction and through the Conwy Tunnel.|
|A87||Skye Bridge - there are no restrictions to road users, but the route must be a Special Road to limit utility works and frontages due to the location.|
|A720||Another high quality dual carriageway, bypassing Edinburgh to the south of the city.|
There is also an unusual piece of Special Road at the foot of two slip roads on the Mancunian Way in Manchester, at the Medlock Street junction. Although most of the motorway is the A57(M), the first 200m or so are not under motorway restrictions - this was done to allow Manchester City Council to install pedestrian crossings on the slip road, yet stop mopeds, tractors etc from going onto it.