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A motorway is a road designated for the exclusive use of certain types of motorised traffic. They are usually built to high standards, often three or four lanes in each direction with a hard shoulder for emergency use. They are generally intended for strategic traffic - passenger and goods - and to carry heavy flows of traffic.
Despite common belief, motorway is a legal term, not an engineering term - it is entirely permissible for a motorway to exist as a single carriageway road (here is a list of examples), and it may contain traffic lights and roundabouts along its length. Equally, high-standard roads are not automatically motorways.
In the United Kingdom motorways are signed in blue, and have a separate numbering system to the rest of the network. They are legally defined as a Special Road limited to Class I (cars, motorcycles and light vans with pneumatic tyres) and Class II traffic (goods vehicles and military vehicles).
In the Republic of Ireland, motorways are considered to be part of the relevant National Route, and motorway restrictions (defined under s.43 of the Roads Act 1993) can be applied using legislation laid out under s.49 of the act.