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Highway vs. Motorway: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 17, 2023
Highway is a general term for a public road, while motorway is a high-speed, controlled-access highway designed exclusively for vehicles.

Key Differences

Highways are broad roads that facilitate travel and transportation. They can be any main road, ranging from rural to urban areas, and do not necessarily have to be limited to high-speed traffic. Highways may include intersections, traffic signals, and pedestrian crossings, and they accommodate a variety of vehicles, including slower-moving traffic. In contrast, a motorway is specifically designed for high-speed vehicular traffic, with multiple lanes and restricted entry points.
The term "highway" encompasses a wide range of road types, from small rural roads to multi-lane urban expressways. Highways can be used by cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and even pedestrians in some cases. They may be toll-free or toll-based. Motorways, on the other hand, are typically toll-free, dual carriageways with a minimum of two lanes on each side and are intended for faster, long-distance travel, prohibiting bicycles, pedestrians, and certain slow-moving vehicles.
In terms of access, highways can be accessed from various points, such as driveways, intersecting roads, or private paths. They integrate into a region’s overall road network. Motorways are more selective; they have designated on-ramps and off-ramps and do not allow direct access from adjoining properties, ensuring uninterrupted traffic flow and higher speeds.
When it comes to regulations, highways are subject to a wider range of rules that vary depending on the area and type of highway. These rules may concern speed limits, vehicle types, and cargo restrictions. In contrast, motorways have uniform regulations, primarily focused on maintaining high-speed travel and safety, with strict enforcement of vehicle standards and driving behaviors.
Highways serve as the backbone of a region's transportation infrastructure, often providing versatility in travel and transport needs. Motorways serve a more specialized function, providing efficient routes for traveling between cities or regions with as few stops as possible, facilitating fast and high-volume traffic movement.

Comparison Chart


A main road, especially one connecting major towns or cities.
A dual carriageway road designed for fast traffic, with limited access.

Access Control

May have at-grade intersections, traffic signals, or roundabouts.
Access via on- and off-ramps; no at-grade intersections.

Vehicle Types

Accommodates a variety of vehicles and sometimes pedestrians.
Typically only motor vehicles; no pedestrians, bicycles, or slow-moving vehicles.

Speed Limits

Can vary widely, often lower in urban areas.
Usually higher, consistent, designed for rapid transit.


Can range from rural to urban settings for various purposes.
Primarily for long-distance travel and freight movement.

Highway and Motorway Definitions


A public road, particularly a major road connecting towns or cities.
The coastal highway offers breathtaking views of the ocean.


A broad road designed for high-speed traffic, with no intersections.
The motorway was clear, allowing us to make good time.


A main route in a transportation system.
The highway is the quickest route to the capital city.


A road without pedestrian access, designated for vehicle use only.
The motorway bypasses small towns to streamline interstate traffic.


A term encompassing expressways, freeways, and other major roads.
The state plans to expand the highway to reduce congestion.


An expressway specifically for motor vehicles with multiple lanes.
Heavy trucks are only allowed on the rightmost lanes of the motorway.


Any main road accessible to the public that is not a motorway.
We took the old highway to avoid the tolls.


A toll-free high-speed road, often between major cities.
They drove non-stop on the motorway to reach the city by dawn.


A paved road providing primary access across a region or country.
The highway was congested with holiday traffic.


A controlled-access dual carriageway with no traffic signals.
The new motorway has reduced travel time by half.


A main public road, especially one connecting towns and cities.


An expressway.


(historical) A road that is higher than the surrounding land and has drainage ditches at the sides


(In Europe, New Zealand and parts of Australia) A highway with grade-separated crossings (rather than level crossings) and designed (and only permitted) for high-speed motor-traffic (in Europe motor vehicles with a higher speed limit than 40 km/h) running in two directions on one separate carriageway each


A main public road, especially a multi-lane, high-speed thoroughfare.


(Chiefly in the U.S.) A racetrack venue designated especially for the sport of auto racing.


A broad highway designed for high-speed traffic


What is a highway?

A highway is a main or major public road, which can range from a two-lane road to a multi-lane expressway.

Can bicycles use highways?

Bicycles can use certain highways, especially where no alternative route exists, but not on motorways.

Are all highways toll-free?

No, some highways require payment of a toll, while others do not.

Do motorways have tolls?

Motorways can be either toll-free or toll-based, depending on the country and specific road.

What is a motorway?

A motorway is a multi-lane, high-speed road with restricted access designed exclusively for motor vehicles.

What's the main purpose of a highway?

The main purpose of a highway is to connect towns, cities, and regions, facilitating travel and transport.

Can any vehicle drive on a highway?

Most legal vehicles can drive on highways, though there may be restrictions based on size, weight, or speed.

Are there vehicle restrictions on motorways?

Yes, motorways often restrict slow-moving vehicles, non-motorized transport, and those not meeting certain safety standards.

Are services like gas stations directly accessible from motorways?

Services are usually available at designated rest stops or service areas along motorways.

Do highways have speed limits?

Yes, highways have varying speed limits, often depending on location and road conditions.

How does weather affect highway travel?

Weather can greatly affect highway conditions, leading to slower speeds and increased risk of accidents.

What happens if my car breaks down on a motorway?

If your car breaks down on a motorway, you should pull over to the emergency lane and call for roadside assistance.

How do I access a motorway?

Access to a motorway is typically controlled via on-ramps and off-ramps.

Are pedestrians allowed on motorways?

No, pedestrians are not allowed on motorways.

What's the main purpose of a motorway?

The main purpose of a motorway is to enable high-speed travel and efficient movement of traffic over long distances.

Can I enter a highway from any road?

Depending on the design, highways can often be accessed from multiple roads and paths.

Do highways have rest areas?

Many highways, especially in rural areas, have designated rest areas.

What are the speed limits on motorways?

Motorways typically have higher, uniform speed limits designed for the fast transit of vehicles.

Are motorways safer than highways?

Motorways are generally safer due to controlled-access points and the absence of intersecting traffic and pedestrians.

Can farm equipment use highways?

In rural areas, farm equipment may be permitted on certain highways but not on motorways.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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