Many people confuse highways, freeways, and Interstates with one another. When drivers say they are about to get on the freeway, they often do not realize they are really entering a highway.

With so much confusion, it seems a lesson is in order. Understanding the differences between these major roads will help drivers ensure they are taking the right routes and feel knowledgeable behind the wheel.

Keep reading to learn about the factors that differentiate these roads.

Highway vs Freeway vs Interstate

What Is the Interstate?

The Interstate refers to the Interstate Highway System that arose from humble beginnings in 1921 but did not come into full effect until the 1950s.

This highway system stretches on for thousands of miles and connects states to one another for travel.

i-95 interstate sign

At the time of this writing, the Interstate Highway System is 46,876 miles long. Because of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, there was a statutory limitation in place that restricted the number of miles that could be built.

In its beginning, the interstate could only be 41,000 miles long.

Years later, legislation allowed for an increase in the number of miles, making the interstate 43,000 miles long.

Today, the Federal Highway Administration can approve additional miles for the interstate as long they meet all Interstate standards and provide a rational connection to existing miles.

Although the Federal Highway Administration has the authority to approve additional Interstate miles, these miles are ineligible for funding under the Interstate Construction funds as a part of the 1956 Act.

What often causes confusion is that highways are a part of the Interstate, but not all of them. So, what is a highway?

interstate

What Is a Highway?

Highways have a very lax definition that many misunderstand. The simple definition of a highway is a road that offers public access but could also have restricted access and tolls.

Most states have their own highways. Some of these roads may connect with Interstates but not all of them.

It is important to clarify what is meant by restricted. Highways are restricted to use by only cars, trucks, and other similar types of motor vehicles. Restricted access also means cars can only enter or exit the highway via an off-ramp.

Because highways are not required to be restricted, there are typically lower speed limits on these roads. For instance, highways may have a speed limit of around 55 mph, while an Interstate speed limit could go as high as 75 mph.

highway

What Is a Freeway?

To add to the confusion, there is another type of roadway in America and in other countries called the freeway. Freeways get their names because they are free roadways, which means there are no toll booths.

While freeways restrict access, you do not have to pay a fee to travel on them. Although freeways are quite similar to the Interstate Highway System, there are some factors that allow drivers to differentiate between the two.

Some freeways are a part of the Interstate Highway System but not all of them. A freeway is mainly designed to connect cities together, whereas the Interstate connects states.

Another factor that differentiates the Interstate and freeways is tolls. While most of the Interstate is toll-free, there are some areas that charge for access. Freeways, by nature, are meant to remain free of tolls.

freeway

Which One Offers Safer Travel?

When people think about driving down the Interstate, freeway, or highway, they often ponder the safety of these roadways. Which one is more likely to cause them to be at risk for an accident?

The answer to this question may surprise many people.

You may not realize, that aside from interstate travel, the Interstate was primarily constructed to provide safer travel.

With the higher rates of speed, many drivers believe the Interstate is more dangerous than other roadways, but the facts say otherwise.

It turns out, that the Interstate is one of the safest forms of travel. One of the reasons the Interstate is safer is because there are no intersections.

Intersections can be deadly for motorists and pedestrians alike. Around 50% of all motor vehicle deaths occur at or near an intersection.

With no intersections, the Interstate offers a much safer mode of travel for most drivers.

Highway vs Freeway vs Interstate

Facts About Roadways

Roadways across the world are increasing rapidly, offering more opportunities for travel by motor vehicle than ever before. With so many roadways, road crews certainly have their hands full with maintenance.

Allow the following roadway facts to give you increased knowledge.

  • In 2019, there were more than four million miles of public roadways in the United States.
  • In 2018, Canada had 415,600 km of paved roads in the country.
  • As of 2020, China had 5.2 million kilometers of paved roads.
  • In 2021, England had 262,300 miles of paved roads.

Drive Safely on all Roadways

No matter which roadway you choose, driving safely is essential. While the Interstate is a safer option, based on statistics, do not let the numbers fool you.

All roadways can be deadly for drivers, especially when there are high rates of speed, driver distractions, or inclement weather conditions.

Drivers must practice safe driving skills and follow all speed limits to ensure they protect themselves and other drivers on the road.

Now, you know the key differences between the Interstate, highways, and freeways.

Keep this in mind next time you are traveling for business or pleasure.

several freeways together

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