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Special Road

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Special Road
A55 Secret Motorway restrictions at Llanddulas - Coppermine - 7708.jpg
Non-motorway Special Road NO sign
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For detailed information about this topic, see Pathetic Motorways: Special Roads

A Special Road is a road within the United Kingdom which is defined as such by a Statutory Instrument. Special Roads are unusual because they do not constitute a right-of-way, and as such are open to no traffic unless allowed to do so by the Statutory Instrument. The opposite of a Special Road is an All-purpose Road.


The Special Roads Act defines the following classes of vehicles:

Class I Class I: Motor tractors, heavy motor cars, motor cars and motor cycles, and trailers drawn thereby, which comply with general regulations as to construction and use made under section thirty of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and in the case of which the following conditions are satisfied, that is to say :—

(i)that the whole weight of the vehicle is transmitted to the road surface by means of wheels ;

(ii)that all wheels of the vehicle are equipped with pneumatic tyres ;

(iii)that the vehicle is not controlled by a pedestrian ;

(iv)that the maximum speed at which the vehicle may be driven under section ten of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, on roads which are not special roads is not less than twenty miles per hour.

Class II Motor vehicles and trailers the use of which for or in connection with the conveyance of abnormal indivisible loads is authorised by order made by the Minister under paragraph (b) of the proviso to subsection (1) of section three of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. Heavy and light locomotives when being used for or in connection with the conveyance of abnormal indivisible loads. Motor vehicles and trailers constructed for naval, military, air force or other defence purposes, the use of which is authorised by order made by the Minister under paragraph (b) of the proviso to subsection (1) of section three of the Road Traffic Act, 1930.
Class III Motor vehicles controlled by pedestrians.
Class IV All motor vehicles not comprised in Class I, Class II or Class III.
Class V Vehicles drawn by animals.
Class VI Vehicles (other than pedal cycles) drawn or propelled by pedestrians.
Class VII Pedal cycles.
Class VIII Animals ridden, led or driven.
Class IX Pedestrians

Special Roads and Motorways

NO sign on Special Road section of A90
NO sign on Special Road section of A720
Signage on non-motorway Special Roads appears identical to that on all-purpose roads such as here on A1
Occasionally, like this example on A1, non-motorway Special Roads have End signage

The majority of Special Roads are motorways, which have been defined as Special Roads that allow Class I (cars, motorcycles and light vans with pneumatic tyres) and Class II traffic (goods vehicles and military vehicles) only to use them.

As such, motorways are a subset of Special Roads - or, to put it another way, all motorways are Special Roads, but not all Special Roads are motorways.

Non-motorway Special Roads

A Special Road that is open to classes of traffic other than Class I and Class II (or indeed to only Class I or Class II) is not a motorway. There are a small number of roads in the UK that have been built using Special Road powers, and opened to some classes of non-motorway traffic, which are therefore non-motorway Special Roads.

Where these non-motorway Special Roads exist, they appear to road users as if they are all-purpose roads, but usually have NO Signs at their entrances in order to specify the restrictions that apply to them. In most cases the restrictions are very similar to those imposed on motorways.

However, not all roads with NO signs are non-motorway Special Roads. There are other roads in the UK that are ordinary All-purpose roads and which have motorway-style restrictions applied by traffic orders or by other means. The existence of a NO sign is not necessarily proof of the existence of a non-motorway Special Road.

One of the unusual characteristics of all non-motorway Special Roads is that they must have their Speed Limits defined within their Statutory Instruments and signposted explicitly, as the National Speed Limit only applies to all-purpose roads and motorways. One common feature of many non-motorway Special Roads is the presence of speed limit signs indicating "70" where a National Speed Limit sign would normally be expected.

Note that while the National Speed Limit does not apply to non-motorway Special Roads, specific limits for classes of vehicle (such as the 60mph limit for heavy goods vehicles) is specified in separate legislation and does still apply - so the existence of a 70mph speed limit sign on a non-motorway Special Road does not exempt vehicles from lower limits that normally apply to them.

Examples of non-motorway Special Roads include sections of:

The following non-motorway Special Roads used to exist:

  • A80 Old Hill - Stepps (replaced by M80)

Legal background

Special Roads were first created by the Special Roads Act (1949), which was intended to provide the Ministry of Transport with legal powers to construct roads that could only be used by motor traffic. Early drafts of this legislation were actually called the Motorway Bill, but this was changed to the Special Roads Bill as it was drafted and redrafted. The powers were not used for another six years, until a Statutory Instrument was published for the Bamber Bridge to Broughton Special Road Scheme 1955. This enabled construction of the Preston Bypass, the UK's first motorway, which is now largely part of the M6.

The Special Roads Act was superceded by the Road Traffic Regulation Act (1984), and today Special Road schemes are made under the powers of this act.

The legal concept behind Special Roads is slightly unusual. Most roads in the UK are All-purpose roads, which means they are open to all traffic. An all-purpose road can be restricted - for example, by banning vehicles over a certain weight from using it - by imposing a traffic regulation order and erecting suitable signage. Unless a type of road user is specifically prohibited from using an all-purpose road, they are permitted to use it.

Special Roads operate in the opposite way: their default state is that no road user is permitted to use them, and classes of vehicle must be specifically permitted by the Statutory Instrument in order to allow it to be used. There is, therefore, an absolute and unequivocal ban on all types of traffic that are not specifically permitted to use the road.

Learner Drivers

Learner drivers are permitted to use non-Motorway Special Roads, but until 4 June 2018, they were prohibited from driving on motorways. Learners accompanied by an approved instructor with dual controls are now permitted to use motorways, in response to the increasing differential between driving on a motorway and an all purpose route (i.e. traffic volumes, technology, signing, regulations).


Special Road
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- Coppermine - 18313.jpgA55 Secret Motorway restrictions at Llanddulas - Coppermine - 7708.jpgA1 End Special Road.JPGA90 AWPR - Kingswells North Junction entry slip road NO sign.jpgA90 AWPR - Kingswells South Junction - SB on-slip.jpg
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