The US opened the first ‘controlled-access highway’ in 1908 (it was a bike path by 1938); Italy opened the first autostrada in 1924; Nazi Germany built the first autobahn in 1932.
Motorways came late to Britain. The first motorway to be opened in the UK was the 8.3 mile long Preston By-pass, opened on the 5th December 1958 by the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.
Why the delay? Not all motorists wanted “special motor roads”.
Writing in 1909, William Joynson-Hicks MP* said:
“I am totally and entirely opposed to taking the motorist and placing him on the heights of fame with a special road to himself, or in the depths of infamy as a being who is not fit to be allowed on the ordinary roads of the country…Once allow us to be put on separate roads and there will be an increasing outcry to keep us to those roads and to forbid us access to the ordinary roads of the country.”
* Joynson-Hicks was chairman of the Motor Union, precursor to the AA, as well as a Conservative MP. He was Minister for Health in 1923-4 and Home Secretary in 1924-29.