How Are Motorways Numbered?

traffic-332857_640Whether you are a regular business traveller or just somebody that enjoys a nice holiday from time to time the chances are that you use a motorway, at least sporadically. Sitting in hours of gridlocked traffic is never anybody’s idea of fun – however, it is sometimes a necessary evil. If you want to get to the airport for a nice holiday, have a business meeting to attend or want to visit family then chances are you’ll need to use a motorway. While it is possible to carry out almost all journeys in the UK with A-roads online why bother?! You’ll travel slower, spend more time driving and you might not get to stop at overpriced service stations along the way!

If you are an inquisitive person then you may find yourself wondering how are motorways numbered? There are a number of gaps in the numbers of the motorways, for example, there is an M23 but then it skips one number and then there is an M25. If you are driving on the M23 then you can move on to the M25, seamlessly, and drive past the M26 on your way around the 117 miles ‘London Orbital Motorway’, as the M25 is otherwise known. Why is there no M24? Surely the motorways are named in the order that they are built? Wrong!

This is quite simple really. Motorways are numbered based on the nearest A road. A quick look at the map will show you that the M25, M11, M23 etc all have A-roads running nearby that share the same number. For example, when travelling along the M11 it is possible to transfer directly onto the A11 with next to no effort at all and then drive into Norfolk along this A road.

Another factor in the numbering of a motorway is the area of the country that the motorway is located in. For example, motorways in the South East will have a ‘2’ within the number, as this is area 2 of the country’s motorways.

If you think about it this is quite a sensible system, particularly for any areas where motorways were being newly implemented. Before the days of satellite navigation, people were reliant upon maps or even just road signs to allow them to undertake their journeys. When people already knew where the A roads were it would have made life much easier to be able to drive along safe in the knowledge that you should find the motorway that you are looking for – hopefully anyway!
There are some exceptions to this, of course, the M25 for example. This large motorway, around 117 miles of motorway, passes a number of A roads. However, it did get its name from the A25 which is right alongside where the oldest past of the M25 was created. So while it may pass a number of other A roads as you travel around the outside of London the name does make sense! Well, at least it did when they were first building it!