Highway Vs. Freeway: What’s The Difference?

The words highway and freeway are used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two and understanding what that is allows you to use both words correctly.

Ultimately, the two words are used to mean the same thing and most people aren’t even aware there is a difference between highway and freeway.


What is a Highway

What is a Highway

One of the main things that creates a distinction between a highway and freeway is how you gain access. To get onto the highway, you will use a ramp or an intersection that allows you to flow with the traffic already on it. Some highways have traffic signals or intersections at various locations along the length of them.

In addition, you’ll sometimes see at-grade crossings on highways. All highways are meant for vehicular traffic and may or may not include toll roads.

Highways generally see less traffic than a freeway and tend to go through big cities and populated areas. Highways tend to be operated by the state in which they are located and the state is responsible for upgrades and repairs.

Difference Between Velocity and Speed


What is a Freeway

colorado 6th avenue freeway
6th avenue freeway in Colorado, USA

Because freeways are free of at-grade crossings, stop lights and intersections, traffic can move at a much faster pace, which means that they can usually handle more cars than the average highway. Sometimes freeways go through a city, but they tend to stick to the edges and often go through smaller towns and less urban areas.

Freeways usually don’t have tolls, hence the term “free” in the name. Access is typically gained via a ramp that then merges with traffic. Freeways are designed solely for vehicular traffic and are not to be used by bicycles, horses or other means of transportation.

Freeways are the best choice for long-distance travel because they are faster and won’t require much slowing down or stopping. Freeways also tend to have more lanes than a highway and often have a barrier between the two directions of traffic. Freeways are operated by the federal government.


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What are the key differences between freeways and highways?

Highways and freeways are very similar and their ultimate purpose, which is to get people from here to there, is the same. The nuances of each are what sets them apart from the other and mixing the two terms up is common and since most people think of both highways and freeways by both names, the correct usage is a formality.

In the end, both a highway and a freeway service people who are traveling by car and help them get where they need to go.

Parameter of Comparison



Access Ramp or intersection Ramp
Stop lights, intersections Sometimes No
Operated by State government Federal government
Number of lanes 2 to 4 4 or more
Area serviced Large urban cities City outskirts, rural areas
Toll roads Sometimes No
Speed 55 mph 65 to 75 mph


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