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Ways in the country

WARNING: This is an early draft


When you leave the city to visit the beautiful countryside you may complain that you are not only surrounded by cows and farm machines, but that you encounter a majority of normal cars, just like in the city you escaped. Only on certain roads you will encounter real agricultural traffic. Those roads are called tracks.

In some regions there it is easy to distinguish tracks from unclassified roads. In other regions you find a lot of paved tracks. Then it is difficult to distinguish them be mere aspect. As a bottomline, it is important estimate, if a road mainly carries agricultural traffic and if the economic reason for the operation of the road is of agricultural nature.

There is a lot of discussion how to weigh. This pages gives a tradeoff of extensive discussions in Germany and is a draft of guidlines for now as a basis for furhter discussion on the international level.


We want to explain the use of highway=unclassified highway=track and highway=service on the countryside. Higher classes of highways are not covered here, yet. Feel free to extend the scope.

Basical considerations

For residential areas there is the the tag highway=residential below the tag highway=unclassified. Outside residential areas there isn't a subcategory to address residential traffic although most paved roads carry predominantly residential traffic. highway=track isn't the rural analogy for highway=residential, but describes ways of primarly agricultural and silvicultural traffic.

Outside residential areas highway=unclassified (or any higher category) addresses all non-agricaltural traffic, which means that nearly every inhabited building is connected by it to the network of higher roads. The immediate access onto the private ground is done by highway=service.


Residential traffic

In short residential traffic is all non-agricultural and non-silvicultural traffic even on the countryside.

If the farmer drives to plough his fields or to feed the cattle, it is agricultural traffic. If the farmer drives to the cinema, it isn't agricultural traffic anymore. Another important factor is, that in industrial countries farmers are the minority even outside of residential areas.

Residential destinations

As residential destinations we define all destinations that attract non-agricaltural and non-silvicultural traffic. This are (beside towns and villages) all inhabited buildings, including farms. Other residential destinations are parkings for hikers, restaurants, hotels, camping grounds, points of interest, riding schools, sports grounds, commercial areas and military areas.

We don't count in small reservoirs, relay stations and wind turbins as they cause few traffic.

Three influencing principles to classify ways in the country

1. Every inhabited building causes residential traffic towards the higher-classified roads.

On the countryside highway=unclassified describes a smaller road that carrys predominantly residential but also argicultural traffic.

As even farm causes as much residential as agricultural traffic, we say as a rule of thumb that every residential destination is connected by highway=unclassified (or a higher category) into the direction of the town. We have to distinguish this from the access road highway=service to the farmyard.

2. Even tracks can be paved.

In some regions paved tracks are the norm, in other regions they are exceptional. It is not possible to distingish highway=track tracktype=grade1 from highway=unclassified by the mere aspect. We have to estimate their function. If you don't want to count cars, you need to apply use other criteria like judging by their course.

From an abstract view of point tracks start behind the farm, often they literally start behind the farm. They are of none or few importance for the connection between residential destinations.

3. The access road is the bridge to private ground.

highway=service describes the access road to farmyards and houses. It's private charakter is often underlined by fences, gateways or signs.

highway=service is also used for ways inside the farmyard or other private grounds. It is also usefull to tag the immediate access to wind turbines.

Sometimes a way passes through a farmyard. To weigh between highway=service, highway=track und highway=unclassified judge be the the charakter of it's privateness and other criteria. Often it switches it's classification from before to behind the farmyard.


Flat landscpae with dense settlement: The Netherlands

There is an inhabited building every few houndred meters. As a result there is a lot of non-agricultural traffic on nearly every paved road. You hardly find highway=track tracktype=grade1. There are comparingly few tracks all.