15 Facts About The Uk's Road Network

Image of a Motorway at dusk

The Uk’s network is an undervalued infrastructure network that stretches from coast to coast. But did you know these 15 facts about it?

  • Without the invention of Tarmac, we would all still be driving on dirt roads. Getting from A to B would take far longer and would be more dangerous. Edgar Hooley invested Tarmac in the early 1900’s after noticing a smooth area of the road next to an ironworks, he asked the workers what had happened and was told a barrel of tar had burst. The following year he patented the heating of tar and adding stones to make Tarmac.
  • Watford Gap Was the Uk’s first service station, this opened a year after the M6 did and the same day the M1 did. It was so popular that families from across the country would visit them for a day out. Is this what we did before we had computers?
  • The first Tarmac road was built in Nottingham in 1902.
  • The Ridgeway is technically the UK’s oldest roadway, it dates back over 5000 years. It’s believed to have been a trading route. (Good to see my hometown mentioned!)
  • The Cat and Fiddle Road, named after The Cat and Fiddle Inn on the road is the UK’s most dangerous. Running through Derby, Buxton, and Cheshire, this road is famous for its hairpin bends and sharp corners.
  • If you believe in ghosts, the M6 is apparently the most haunted road in the UK. Reported sightings include seeing legions of Roman soldiers marching along to deranged women screaming on the side of the road. Usually, these appear in the dead of night when drivers all alone on the road, but sometimes they pop up during the day as well. You have been warned!
  • The steepest road is in Cumbria with a gradient of  1 in 3 (about 33) it’s called Hardknott Pass. Despite it being used since Roman times it took years to be determined safe for motor vehicles.
  • The UK is blessed (or cursed) with lots of rude road names, some of which even contain swear words! But of all the rude names there are, nothing is more offensive than ‘Dumb Woman’s Lane’ in Rye. This sign might be construed as being rude today, but its history says otherwise. According to local myth, the lane was named ‘Dumb Woman’s Lane’ because a mute woman lived there. The story goes that her tongue was cut out by smugglers, to stop her telling people what she had seen them smuggle. In the past, they thought if you couldn’t speak it was thought you were dumb, hence the name.
  • The UK’s worst ever traffic jam to date was on the 5th of April in 1985 when there was a 40-mile hold up on the M1, which snaked all the way from junction 16 to 18, leaving hundreds of motorists trapped in their cars for hours.
  • Swindon’s Magic Roundabout is apparently the scariest roundabout in the UK. Coincidently because it is so confusing there are rarely any accidents because the traffic moves so slow!
  • Road safety has come a long way, When the M1 was first opened on the 2nd of November 1959, it had no speed limit, crash barriers, central reservation or even lighting!
  • Potholes account for a third of mechanical issues on UK roads, costing British motorists an estimated £2.8 billion each year.
  • The first traffic lights were manually operated. A gas-lit signal was put up in 1868 outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
  • According to the Department for Transport, if you lay out all the roads in the UK over 238,000 miles. it would stretch past the moon,
  • The number of petrol stations across the road network is at a 50-year low. There are now around 8,600 stations, down from around 37,000 in 1970. Probably something you don’t want to think about next time you’re running low!
  • There are around 35,760,901 vehicles currently on UK roads, which is roughly one car for every two people.