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Highway Vs Freeway: What are the Differences? 

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The main difference between a highway and a freeway is that a highway is normally charged a toll fee while freeways are free. In this blog post, we will discuss the differences between highways and freeways in detail. We will also talk about the benefits of each type of road.

What is a Highway?

highway in france
A Highway in France (A75)

Highways are roads that have been designated for long-distance travel. They are usually toll roads, meaning drivers must pay a fee to use them. Highways often have multiple lanes and are designed for high speeds. Many highways also have service areas, which are areas where drivers can stop to get food or gas. Highways are typically found in urban areas.

The main benefit of using a highway is that drivers can travel at high speeds. This can be helpful when trying to get to a destination quickly. Additionally, highways often have multiple lanes, which makes it easier for drivers to merge into traffic.

The United States has the largest network of highways in the world especially in the states of Texas & California, followed by China. The longest highway is the Pan-American highway with a length of 48,000 km(30,000 miles) followed by Highway 1, Australia which is around 14,500 km(9,009 miles).

What is a Freeway?

harboy freeway
The Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles during rush hour traffic

Freeways are special types of highways that are free to use. They typically have more lanes than other types of highways and they allow for higher speeds. Freeways are often found in urban areas, where traffic can be heavy. They are also known as expressways or motorways. They typically don't have intersections or traffic lights.

The main benefit of a freeway is that it allows drivers to travel long distances quickly. Many freeways are built in areas where there aren't many towns or cities, meaning drivers can drive for hours without stopping at any intersections or red lights. They also typically have more lanes than other types of roads, which means that drivers can pass other cars more easily.

Key differences between Highways & Freeways

Difference in toll

The key difference between highways and freeways is that freeways are toll-free. In the United States, there are a lot of federal highways which means they fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. These roads have numbers instead of names. So most of the time there is a toll when you use a highway. But, there are no tolls on freeways.

The difference in traffic flow

Freeways are specially designed to facilitate the smooth travel of large numbers of vehicles at high speeds. The lanes are wide and there is usually a median separating them so that cars don’t cross over. There are also a lot of exit and entry ramps in order to facilitate easier movement into or out of the freeway.

Highways, on the other hand, don't have ramps and are slow in terms of traffic flow, mainly due to toll stoppages.

The difference in access points

Freeways have limited access points since they are built to bypass cities and towns which means there won’t be many stoplights or intersections. This also means that there is usually a higher level of security as it’s harder for people to get on and off the freeway without proper authorization.

Highways, on the other hand, have more access points which make them perfect for shorter journeys as drivers can easily enter and exit.

The difference in traffic signals

One of the main differences between highways and freeways is that there are no traffic lights on a freeway. The only signals you will ever see are warning signs near construction areas or exit ramps while in some cases, they have flashing beacons to warn drivers about accidents ahead.

But most of the time, you won’t find any stoplights on a freeway. Highways, however, have traffic lights at some intersections.

Similarities between a Highway and Freeway

Both highways and freeways are paved roads that connect important places. They can be both state-owned or federally owned depending on their locations.

Both highways and freeways can be used for traveling long distances. They are both built wide to accommodate larger vehicles and heavy traffic flow. The speed limits are also the same on both types of roads.

The main motive of both highways and freeways is to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic. Both are constructed in a way that allows for the quick movement of vehicles at high speeds.

In fact, when you think about it, the terms “highway” and “freeway” can often be used interchangeably as both refer to roads that allow for faster travel. The only real difference is that freeways are toll-free while highways have tolls. But, other than that, the two types of roads serve the same purpose.

So, in general, you can say that highways and freeways are very similar to each other.


Why are there different names for these roads?

The terms highway and freeway are actually both American terms. Overseas, they may use other words such as autoroute or motorway. Essentially, they all refer to the same thing - a road designed for faster travel. 

Is there a difference between highways and freeways in Canada?

In places like Canada, they use the term highway for most high-speed roads. While they refer to Freeways as Expressways.

What is a freeway in South Africa?

In South Africa, freeways are mostly termed highways or motorways.

Is highway a motorway?

Yes - they are the same thing. A motorway and highway are all road types that allow faster travel by separating normal traffic from other vehicles.

Is a turnpike a freeway?

Not necessarily - it can be either one or both. In many instances, Turnpikes have tolls to pay for their construction and maintenance.


Freeways are much less congested than highways. This means that freeways are the preferred choice for getting from point A to Point B quickly and efficiently. However, there is one downside of using a freeway instead of a highway-you may have trouble finding an exit when you need it most! 

We hope this blog post has helped clear up any confusion there may have been between highways and freeways. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to ask us!


Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.
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About the Author: Tom Vincent

Tom Vincent graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and social studies. He then started his higher education at the University of François Rabelais in Tours with a DUT Information Communication. To expand his knowledge, he also followed a professional degree in e-commerce and digital marketing at the Lumière University of Lyon. On this project, he is in charge of articles covering language, industry and social.
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