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|Trunk road • Principal road • Classified Numbered road • Classified Unnumbered road
An Unclassified Road is a public road within the United Kingdom that is not recognised by the relevant central government body as a Classified Road, i.e. has not been allocated an A, B, or M number; nor is a Class III or Classified Unnumbered Road.
The term is also colloquially (but incorrectly) used to also include Class III roads.
Origin of term
Historically, Highway Authorities were given funding from central government to assist with the maintenance of classified roads. The different classifications of roads were therefore allocated different levels of funding, with Class I (A) roads being given the highest level of funding, and Class III roads being given the least.
Unclassified roads were those roads given no funding classification, and therefore are those that had to be maintained at the expense of the Highway Authority.
Some Highway Authorities choose to number some or all of their Unclassified Roads for internal purposes, with D being common, whilst Devon Council use L and W. Some go as far as numbering all footpaths within their area.
This internal numbering does not prevent them from being Unclassified Roads; nor does it affect any funding for the Highway Authority. They are simply numbered for administrative convenience.
Standards and Laws
There is no restriction to the standard of unclassified roads, and whilst many are narrow, single track country lanes, the majority are probably two-way urban or suburban streets. Some are also dual carriageways, whether because they are former main roads, now bypassed, or purposely built to a high standard to serve, for instance, a retail park or major new housing development. In remote rural areas, many unclassified roads are single track. In some areas, such as the Scottish Highlands or Mid Wales, they are copiously supplied with passing places. However, in the depths of Somerset or Dorset, the roads are mere lanes, unchanged for centuries and often set in holloways between high banks and hedges. Adding passing places to such roads is obviously not an easy task, so motorists need to take more care, and be prepared to reverse lengthy distances.
Unclassified roads are subject to the same regulations and laws as all other public roads (except Special Roads), and therefore must meet the same design, signage and lining requirements. However, due to far lower traffic volumes on many of these roads, councils don't necessarily prioritise such matters to the same extent.
Whilst the term Unclassified theoretically covers all roads that aren't classified roads, there are, of course, some roads which fall outwith the term unclassified too. Many towns and villages have a Private Road tucked away in the leafier suburb, which is owned and maintained by the residents. Unadopted roads also occur in partially finished housing estates (although here the intention is for the road to become adopted, and therefore unclassified). Roads leading into retail parks or leisure complexes may also be owned and maintained by the landlords of the site. To add further confusion, there are also some roads owned by the council which are not adopted as such, and therefore should not be considered unclassified. These include roads within parks and, as another example, the Toll Road from Weston-super-Mare to Kewstoke in Somerset.