While all roads look the same, they’re not in terms of definition and access.
You may be traveling from a freeway to a highway without even realizing it.
Each type of road has different laws associated with it.
To avoid receiving a ticket or breaking the law, it’s a good idea to know the difference between a freeway and a highway.
Here are the differences between a highway and a freeway.
Highway Vs. Freeway (What’s The Difference?)
One of the biggest differences between a highway and a freeway is the existence of tolls.
Freeways don’t have tolls whereas highways might have tolls.
The fact that a freeway doesn’t have tolls is exactly why it’s called a freeway.
Drivers can access and exit the freeway, and any connecting freeways, without worrying about needing to stop at a toll booth.
A highway, on the other hand, may have tolls.
The only type of highway that uses tolls is a limited-access one.
This means that the road is either public or private in nature.
To access the road, you have to pay a small fee.
Tolls have been in existence for a long time.
Even in the days before vehicles, there were toll roads.
Kings or local governors would have a toll collector at certain junctions and charge people who were walking, riding a horse, or pulling a cart on the road.
It was a way for the owner of the road to keep up with the cost of maintaining it.
That’s something that has continued through the development of vehicles.
Many cities implement tolls as a means of accruing funds to maintain the roads.
They use those funds to fix them and ensure they’re of excellent quality to keep everyone safe.
It’s common for highways that connect to two major cities to have tolls because those roads see a lot of use.
With a lot of traffic on them, the road deteriorates quickly.
To keep ahead of its deterioration, the state government needs more funds than it receives through its yearly budget.
Those funds come from tolls.
Highways aren’t the only type of roadway that can have a toll either.
Some tunnels and bridges also use tolls.
Those funds help pay for the project over a long period.
It also funds future maintenance projects on the tunnel or bridge.
On a highway, you can expect to pay a toll at a booth.
In an effort to reduce traffic congestion caused by toll booths, many states have switched to automated booths.
These booths don’t rely on a toll operator.
Instead, the driver can simply pay the amount they owe, then pass through the gate once it lifts.
Others skip booths entirely and rely on sensors.
These sensors read a driver’s license plate or a piece of technology located somewhere on the vehicle and then bill them the toll in the mail later.
The amount that a driver pays depends on the vehicle.
Larger vehicles, or those with more axles, pay more than smaller cars.
That’s because they do more damage to the road since they’re heavier.
Semi-trucks, for example, pay heavier tolls than most standard cars.
Freeways don’t have tolls because they’re built to help make traffic flow easier and faster.
The funding for their maintenance comes from the annual budget that the state government sets aside for them.
If you’re driving on a road and you see that there’s a toll ahead, then you know you’re on a highway rather than a freeway.
Another key difference between a freeway and a highway is what the stretch of road connects to.
A freeway connects two cities together.
It doesn’t go through rural towns although you can access one in a rural area.
The freeway is a direct connection between two cities.
The benefit of a freeway is that it offers a quick way to get between two major or minor cities.
One of the reasons the government makes a freeway is to enable businesses to operate more easily.
When a business has to receive or ship a product, then it might need to send its driver along several different roads before reaching the location.
That driver may even need to go through toll roads which makes the process expensive for business owners.
A freeway changes that because it offers a direct route.
It takes less time and resources for businesses to perform certain services and operations.
It also benefits workers.
They’re able to live outside of the city or even in another city entirely and find it easier to drive to another city to work.
The freeway offers a fast and efficient way for them to go between work and home.
A highway is something different.
While a highway can connect to a freeway, and a freeway can connect to a highway, the highway ultimately connects several roadways.
They’re also more common in rural areas.
Highways attempt to connect several rural, and even suburban, communities.
You can find them deep in the country or even in busy shopping districts.
The government makes highways in an effort to make it easier for rural communities to connect to their urban counterparts.
It also helps those who work in the local city to reach their rural homes faster and easier.
Because highways can have tolls, it’s not uncommon for many highways to run across state lines.
Each state might put a toll booth on the same stretch of highway at a border crossing.
Depending on where you’re driving, whether it’s in a rural area or driving between two cities, you may be on a highway or a freeway.
3. Access Points
The type of access point a driver takes to enter a freeway or highway is also different.
You can only access a freeway through a ramp.
It doesn’t have any intersections or exchanges.
This is because the very nature of a freeway is to make travel expedient and safe.
By having intersections, travel becomes more dangerous on a roadway, especially when those cars are traveling fast.
Ramps are the only way to access a freeway.
Highways, on the other hand, have several different access points.
They use ramps, intersections, and other exchanges.
Traveling on a highway is often slower than on a freeway.
Because of that, it’s safer to implement things like intersections as a means of accessing a highway.
One way to think of a highway is a major country road.
It’s sometimes called a state roadway or state highway.
It features long stretches of road that are sometimes interrupted by large intersections.
Some of these intersections have traffic signals.
Some ramps also extend from a highway to connect to a freeway.
However, you will never see an intersection on a highway connected to a freeway.
If you’re driving on a road and notice that it doesn’t have any intersections, then there’s a good chance that you’re driving on a freeway.
The best way to check is to look at its access points.
If those points are only ramps, then it’s a freeway.
If you notice that the road you’re traveling on has both ramps and intersections as a means to access it, then you’re traveling on a highway.
4. Speed Limit
The speed at which you’re driving on the roadway can also tell you whether you’re driving on a highway or a freeway.
Freeways promote faster traveling.
The speed limits for a freeway range from 60 miles per hour (MPH) to 80 MPH.
The average speed limit for a freeway is 70 MPH.
Speed limits are higher on freeways because they don’t use toll booths or intersections.
There’s nothing to slow down the flow of traffic besides congestion, accidents, or animal crossings.
Since the road is an effort by the government to facilitate efficient traffic, it’s able to place a higher speed limit on it.
Freeways also have a speed minimum.
This is how slow a car can legally go on the freeway.
The average speed minimum for a freeway is 40–50 MPH.
Cars are not allowed to go any slower than that or else they may receive a ticket.
That’s because slower cars can cause traffic congestion.
This impedes the rest of the drivers on the road from reaching their destination fast.
It also impacts businesses.
To ensure everyone is using the freeway at the correct speed, the government enforces the speed minimum.
A highway has different speed limits and speed minimums.
Since it’s generally used by rural cars, the speed limit tends to be slower.
The average speed limit for a highway is 50 MPH, but
it can range anywhere from 40 MPH to even 80 MPH.
The speed limit also changes based on the zone of the highway.
For example, if the highway is cutting through a business district, then it tends to drop to 30 or 40 MPH.
That’s because there’s a lot of congested traffic making use of the various intersections in the area.
The speed limit increases to 50 or 60 MPH when traveling from an urban area to a rural one.
It can increase even more to 60 MPH or 80 MPH when traveling from one rural area to another.
That’s because traffic is significantly decreased in rural zones.
Since there are fewer cars on the road, it’s easier for cars to travel quickly.
The speed minimums for a highway also depend on the zone.
The average speed minimum is 30 MPH.
In areas with a faster speed limit, the average speed minimum is 40 MPH.
A lower speed minimum ensures that cars of several types can use the highway safely.
That includes older cars that may not be able to reach top speeds or cars experiencing mechanical problems.
It also includes non-traditional vehicles like tractors and horse carts.
If the stretch of road you’re on allows you to go faster, around 70 MPH, then you’re likely on a freeway.
A good way to remember that it’s a freeway is to call it by its other name.
Freeways are also called expressways.
The goal is to let drivers operate their cars faster.
If the stretch of road is slower and has an average speed limit of 50 MPH, then there’s a good chance that you’re on a highway.
It allows cars of several different types to use it without breaking the law or impeding traffic too much.
5. Vehicle Type
Freeways and highways have different regulations on the type of vehicles that can use them.
That’s why knowing the difference between a freeway and a highway is important.
If you use the wrong sort of car on a certain roadway, then you could face a ticket.
Freeways, because they promote faster travel, only allow cars and trucks on them.
They don’t allow carts, pedestrians, or bicycles.
That’s because the existence of those on the side of the road makes traveling fast more dangerous.
There’s always a chance that a pedestrian might veer into the road, or a bicyclist may fall and end up on the road.
Carts driven by horses are too large for the side of a freeway and can block traffic.
Because it impedes traffic, it becomes a danger.
It also means the drivers aren’t able to go to the speed limit.
You can tell you’re on a freeway if it doesn’t have any sidewalks on either side of it.
It also doesn’t have enough of a shoulder for bikes or pedestrians to use.
The shoulder is only wide enough for a disabled car to pull into to avoid traffic.
That said, some special freeways allow bikes and pedestrians on them.
These are special-access freeways or expressways.
The shoulder is usually a defined area a few feet away from the actual roadway.
This allows the drivers to have plenty of space and the ability to travel at the correct speed.
The area reserved for bikes and pedestrians is usually a path that is sometimes lifted above or below the freeway.
In most cases, however, no one can use a freeway except drivers.
The highway is a different case.
Since it often connects rural areas to other areas, it allows access to almost everyone.
Pedestrians can use the highway if there is a sidewalk.
Bikes can use the highway.
Sometimes there are even biking lanes built into the highway for their specific use.
Horses and carts can also use the highway.
This is because, in rural areas, highways aren’t traveled on as much as freeways.
It’s easier for cars to get around slower-moving traffic.
Some highways, however, might restrict the types of users on them.
Highways in shopping areas, for example, might not allow horses and carts, but they may allow bicyclists and pedestrians.
It’s always a good idea to check with your local government to determine what is allowed on the specific stretch of highway or freeway in question.
A final difference between freeways and highways is their construction.
Freeways are often elevated above the ground.
This is to allow traffic to pass under them.
Since freeways don’t have entry or exit points via an intersection, when they cross other roadways, they use a bridge or another type of elevation to go over the road.
This ensures that the traffic under the freeway can continue.
It also ensures that the traffic on the freeway continues without interruption.
Freeways also regularly use medians.
Not every freeway will have a physical median like a stretch of grass or roadblocks, however.
Some simply rely on paint.
Yellow and white paint on the road indicates the two different directions of traffic.
In most cases, a freeway will use a stretch of grass as a median when passing through the country.
It’s only when it crosses into urban zoning that they replace the grass with either a cement median or only painted lines.
If you see a roadway above another roadway, then you’re likely looking at a freeway.
A highway can be practically anything.
It usually runs on the ground although it does use bridges in certain areas.
It can also use medians to separate the two different directions of traffic.
The major difference is that highways are not elevated in the way that freeways are.
They tend to run under a freeway instead.
There are several differences between a freeway and a highway.
Since a freeway helps drivers travel quickly between two urban centers, it has a higher speed limit than a highway.
A highway, which typically links rural communities, is able to support different types of transport like bikes and pedestrians.
Knowing the difference between the two can ensure you don’t break any laws when traveling on one.