A highway is any public or private
road A road is a thoroughfare, route, or way on land between two Location (geography), places that has been Pavement (material), paved or otherwise improved to allow travel by foot or by some form of wikt:conveyance, conveyance (including a motor vehi ...
or other public way on land. It is used for major roads, but also includes other public roads and public tracks. In some areas of the United States, it is used as an equivalent term to
controlled-access highway network. A controlled-access highway is a type of highway that has been designed for high-speed vehicular traffic, with all traffic flow—ingress and egress—regulated. Common English terms are freeway (in parts of Australia, parts of Canada ...

controlled-access highway
, or a translation for '' autobahn'', ''
'', etc. According to Merriam Webster, the use of the term predates the 12th century. According to Etymonline, "high" is in the sense of "main". In
North American North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be described as the northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to ...
Australian English Australian English (AusE,AusEng, AuE, AuEng, en-AU) is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native to Australia. Australian English is the country's national and ''de facto'' common language. English is the Lang ...
, major roads such as controlled-access highways or arterial roads are often state highways (Canada: provincial highways). Other roads may be designated "
county highway Image:C-581.jpg, upMarkers for Hillsborough County Road 581 in Tampa, Florida A county highway (also county road or county route; usually abbreviated CH or CR) is a road in the United States and in the Canadian province of Ontario that is design ...
s" in the US and
Ontario , Label_map = yes , image_map = Ontario in Canada 2.svg , map_alt = Map showing Ontario's location east/central of Canada. , coordinates = , capital = Toronto , larges ...
. These classifications refer to the level of government (state, provincial, county) that maintains the roadway. In
British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the ...
, "highway" is primarily a legal term. Everyday use normally implies roads, while the legal use covers any route or path with a public right of access, including footpaths etc. The term has led to several related derived terms, including highway system, highway code, highway patrol and highwayman.


Major highways are often named and numbered by the governments that typically develop and maintain them. Australia's Highway 1 (Australia), Highway 1 is the longest national highway in the world at over and runs almost the entire way around the continent. China has the world's largest network of highways followed closely by the United States of America. Some highways, like the Pan-American Highway or the European routes, span multiple countries. Some major highway routes include ferry services, such as U.S. Route 10, US Route 10, which crosses Lake Michigan. Traditionally highways were used by pedestrian, people on foot or on horses. Later they also accommodated carriages, bicycles and eventually motor cars, facilitated by advancements in road construction. In the 1920s and 1930s, many nations began investing heavily in progressively more modern highway systems to spur commerce and bolster national defence. Major modern highways that connect cities in populous developed countries, developed and developing countries usually incorporate features intended to enhance the road's capacity, efficiency, and safety to various degrees. Such features include a limited access road, reduction in the number of locations for user access, the use of dual carriageways with two or more lanes on each carriageway, and grade-separated junctions with other roads and modes of transport. These features are typically present on highways built as ''motorways'' (''freeways'').


England and Wales

The general legal definition deals with right of use not the form of construction; this is distinct from e.g. the popular use of the word in the US. A highway is defined in English common law by a number of similarly-worded definitions such as "a way over which all members of the public have the right to pass and repass without hindrance" usually accompanied by "at all times"; ownership of the ground is for most purposes irrelevant thus the term encompasses all such ways from the widest trunk roads in public ownership to the narrowest footpath providing unlimited pedestrian access over private land. A highway might be open to all forms of lawful land traffic (i.e. vehicular, horse, pedestrian) or limited to specific types of traffic or combinations of types of traffic; usually a highway available to vehicles is available to foot or horse traffic, a highway available to horse traffic is available to pedestrians but exceptions can apply usually in the form of a highway only being available to vehicles or subdivided into dedicated parallel sections for different users. A highway can share ground with a private right of way for which full use is not available to the general public as often will be the case with farm roads which the owner may use for any purpose but for which the general public only has a right of use on foot or horseback. The status of ''highway'' on most older roads has been gained by established public use while newer roads are typically ''dedicated'' as highways from the time they are adopted (taken into the care and control of a council or other public authority). In England and Wales, a public highway is also known as "''The Queen's Highway''". The core definition of a highway is modified in various legislation for a number of purposes but only for the specific matters dealt with in each such piece of legislation. This is typically in the case of bridges, tunnels and other structures whose ownership, mode of use or availability would otherwise exclude them from the general definition of a highway, examples in recent years are commonly toll bridges and tunnels which have the definition of ''highway'' imposed upon them (in a legal order applying only to the individual structure) to allow application of most traffic laws to those using them but without causing all of the general obligations or rights of use otherwise applicable to a highway. What is called 'highway' in the context of motor vehicles, is called 'motorway' in the UK context.


Scots law is similar to English law with regard to highways but with differing terminology and legislation. What is defined in England as a ''highway'' will often in Scotland be what is defined by s.151 Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 (but only "in this act" although other legislation could imitate) simply as a road, that is :- *"any way (other than a waterway) over which there is a public right of passage (by whatever means [and whether subject to a toll or not]) and includes the road’s verge, and any bridge (whether permanent or temporary) over which, or tunnel through which, the road passes; and any reference to a road includes a part thereof; " The word ''highway'' is itself no longer a statutory expression in Scots law but remains in common law.

United States

In American law, the word "highway" is sometimes used to denote any public way used for travel, whether a "road, street, and parkway"; however, in practical and useful meaning, a "highway" is a major and significant, well-constructed road that is capable of carrying reasonably heavy to extremely heavy traffic. Highways generally have a route number designated by the state and federal departments of transportation. California Vehicle Code, Sections 360, 590, define a "highway" as only a way open for use of motor vehicles, but the California Supreme Court has held that "the definition of 'highway' in the Vehicle Code is used for special purposes of that act," and that canals of the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice, California, are "highways" that are entitled to be maintained with state highway funds. Smaller roads may be termed Byway (road), byways.


Modern highway systems developed in the 20th century as the automobile gained popularity. The world's first limited access road was constructed on Long Island New York in the United States known as the Long Island Motor Parkway or the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway. It was completed in 1911. In Italy the Milano-Varese autostrada was opened in 1924. Construction of the Bonn–Cologne autobahn began in 1929 and it was opened in 1932 by the mayor of Transport in Cologne, Cologne, Konrad Adenauer. In the US, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921 (Phipps Act) enacted a fund to create an extensive highway system. In 1922, the first blueprint for a national highway system (the Pershing Map) was published. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 allocated $25 billion for the construction of the Interstate Highway System over a 20-year period. In Great Britain, the Special Roads Act 1949 provided the legislative basis for roads for restricted classes of vehicles and non-standard or no speed limits applied (later mostly termed motorways but now with speed limits not exceeding 70 mph); in terms of general road law this legislation overturned the usual principle that a road available to vehicular traffic was also available to horse or pedestrian traffic as is usually the only practical change when non-motorways are reclassified as ''special roads''. The first section of motorway in the UK opened in 1958 (part of the M6 motorway) and then in 1959 the first section of the M1 motorway.

Social effects

Reducing travel times relative to city or town streets, modern highways with limited access and grade separation create increased opportunities for people to travel for business, trade or pleasure and also provide trade routes for goods. Modern highways reduce commute and other travel time but additional road capacity can also release induced demand, latent traffic demand. If not accurately predicted at the planning stage, this extra traffic may lead to the new road becoming congested sooner than would otherwise be anticipated by considering increases in vehicle ownership. More roads allow drivers to use their cars when otherwise alternatives may have been sought, or the journey may not have been made, which can mean that a new road brings only short-term mitigation of traffic congestion. Where highways are created through existing communities, there can be reduced community cohesion and more difficult local access. Consequently, property values have decreased in many cutoff neighborhoods, leading to decreased housing quality over time.

Economic effects

In transport, Demand (economics), demand can be measured in numbers of journeys made or in total distance travelled across all journeys (e.g. passenger-kilometres for public transport or vehicle-kilometres of travel (VKT) for private transport). Supply (economics), Supply is considered to be a measure of capacity. The price of the good (travel) is measured using the generalised cost of travel, which includes both money and time expenditure. The effect of increases in supply (capacity) are of particular interest in transport economics (see induced demand), as the potential environmental consequences are significant (see ''externalities'' below). In addition to providing benefits to their users, transport networks impose both positive externalities, positive and negative externalities on non-users. The consideration of these externalities—particularly the negative ones—is a part of transport economics. Positive externalities of transport networks may include the ability to provide emergency services, increases in land (economics), land value and economies of agglomeration, agglomeration benefits. Negative externalities are wide-ranging and may include local air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, traffic safety, safety hazards, community severance and traffic congestion, congestion. The contribution of transport systems to potentially hazardous climate change is a significant negative externality which is difficult to evaluate quantitatively, making it difficult (but not impossible) to include in transport economics-based research and analysis. Congestion is considered a negative externality by economists. A 2016 study finds that for the United States "a 10% increase in a region's stock of highways causes a 1.7% increase in regional patenting over a five-year period."

Environmental effects

Highways are extended line source, linear sources of pollution. Roadway noise increases with operating speed so major highways generate more noise than arterial road, arterial streets. Therefore, considerable noise health effects are expected from highway systems. Noise mitigation strategies exist to reduce sound levels at nearby sensitive receptors. The idea that highway design could be influenced by acoustical engineering considerations first arose about 1973. Air quality issues: Highways may contribute fewer air pollutant, emissions than arterials carrying the same vehicle volumes. This is because high, constant-speed operation creates an emissions reduction compared to vehicular flows with stops and starts. However, concentrations of air pollutants near highways may be higher due to increased traffic volumes. Therefore, the risk of exposure to elevated levels of air pollutants from a highway may be considerable, and further magnified when highways have traffic congestion. New highways can also cause habitat fragmentation, encourage urban sprawl and allow human intrusion into previously untouched areas, as well as (counterintuitively) increasing congestion, by increasing the number of intersections. They can also reduce the use of public transport, indirectly leading to greater pollution. High-occupancy vehicle lanes are being added to some newer/reconstructed highways in the United States and other countries around the world to encourage carpooling and mass-transit. These lanes help reduce the number of cars on the highway and thus reduces pollution and traffic congestion by promoting the use of carpooling in order to be able to use these lanes. However, they tend to require dedicated lanes on a highway, which makes them difficult to construct in dense urban areas where they are the most effective. To address habitat fragmentation, wildlife crossings have become increasingly popular in many countries. Wildlife crossings allow animals to safely cross human-made barriers like highways.

Road traffic safety

Road traffic safety describes the safety performance of roads and streets, and methods used to reduce the harm (deaths, injuries, and property damage) on the highway system from traffic collisions. It includes the design, construction and regulation of the roads, the vehicles used on them and the training of drivers and other road-users. A report published by the World Health Organization in 2004 estimated that some 1.2m people were killed and 50m injured on the roads around the world each year and was the leading cause of death among children 10–19 years of age. The report also noted that the problem was most severe in developing countries and that simple prevention measures could halve the number of deaths. For reasons of clear data collection, only harm involving a road vehicle is included. A person tripping with fatal consequences or dying for some unrelated reason on a public road is not included in the relevant statistics.


The United States has the world's largest network of highways, including both the Interstate Highway System and the United States Numbered Highway System. At least one of these networks is present in every state and they interconnect most major cities. China's highway network is the second most extensive in the world, with a total length of about . China's Controlled-access highway, expressway network is the longest Expressway system in the world, and it is quickly expanding, stretching some at the end of 2011. In 2008 alone, expressways were added to the network. ;Longest international highway: The Pan-American Highway, which connects many countries in the Americas, is nearly long . The Pan-American Highway is discontinuous because there is a Darién Gap, significant gap in it in southeastern Panama, where the rainfall is immense and the terrain is entirely unsuitable for highway construction. ;Longest national highway (point to point): The Trans-Canada Highway has one main route, a northern route through the Western Canada, western provinces, and several branches in the Central Canada, central and Atlantic Canada, eastern provinces. The main route is long alone, and the entire system is over long. The TCH runs east-west across southern Canada, the populated portion of the country, and it connects many of the major urban centres along its route crossing all provinces, and reaching nearly all of their capital cities. The TCH begins on the east coast in Newfoundland and Labrador, Newfoundland, traverses that island, and crosses to the mainland by ferry. It crosses the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada with a branch route serving the province of Prince Edward Island via a ferry and bridge. After crossing the remainder of the country's mainland, the highway reaches Vancouver, British Columbia on the British Columbia Coast, Pacific coast, where a ferry continues it to Vancouver Island and the provincial capital of Victoria, British Columbia, Victoria. Numeric designation is the responsibility of the provinces, and there is no single route number across the country. ;Longest national highway (circuit): Australia's Highway 1 (Australia), Highway 1 at over . It runs almost the entire way around the country's coastline. With the exception of the Federal Capital of Canberra, which is far inland, Highway 1 links all of Australia's capital cities, although Brisbane and Darwin are not directly connected, but rather are bypassed short distances away. Also, there is a ferry connection to the island state of Tasmania, and then a stretch of Highway 1 that links the major towns and cities of Tasmania, including Launceston, Tasmania, Launceston and Hobart (this state's capital city). ;Largest national highway system: The United States of America has approximately of highway within its borders . ;Busiest highway: Ontario Highway 401, Highway 401 in
Ontario , Label_map = yes , image_map = Ontario in Canada 2.svg , map_alt = Map showing Ontario's location east/central of Canada. , coordinates = , capital = Toronto , larges ...
, Canada, has volumes surpassing an average of 500,000 vehicles per day in some sections of Toronto . ;Widest highway (maximum number of lanes): The Katy Freeway (part of Interstate 10) in Houston, Texas, has a total of 26 lanes in some sections . However, they are divided up into general use/ frontage roads/ HOV lanes, restricting the traverse traffic flow. ;Widest highway (maximum number of through lanes): Interstate 5 in California, Interstate 5 along a section between Interstate 805 and California State Route 56 in San Diego, California, which was completed in April 2007, is 22 lanes wide. ;Highest international highway: The Karakoram Highway, between Pakistan and China, is at an altitude of .; ;Highest national highway: National Highway 5 (India), National Highway 5, in India, connecting Amritsar in Punjab with Manali, Himachal Pradesh, Manali in Himachal Pradesh & Leh in Ladakh, reaches an approximate altitude of .. The highest motorable road passes through Umling La at an altitude of falls under the branch highway connecting National Highway 5 in India.

Bus lane

Some countries incorporate bus lanes onto highways.

South Korea

In South Korea, in February 1995 a bus lane (essentially an HOV-9) was established between the northern terminus and Sintanjin for important holidays and on 1 July 2008 bus lane enforcement between Seoul and Osan (Sintanjin on weekends) became daily between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. On 1 October this was adjusted to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, some highways are set up with bus lanes to solve the traffic congestion.


Traffic congestion was a principal problem in major roads and highways in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila and other major cities. The government decided to set up some bus lanes in Metro Manila like in the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue.


File:Spaghetti-Junction-Crop.jpg, Gravelly Hill Interchange in Birmingham, England File:Autogrill-greece-A1 2009.jpg, Motorway 1 (Greece), A1 Motorway near Athens, Greece with rest area above File:A1 (A14 Bologna B.go Panigale).JPG, The ten-lane A1 motorway (Italy), Highway A1 near Bologna, Italy File:S1 1.JPG, A Roads and expressways in Poland, Polish expressway in Bielsko-Biała File:5, 70870 Kuopio, Finland - panoramio.jpg, Finnish national road 5, National road 5 in Kuopio, Finland File:E4 Nyköpingsbro.jpg, European route E4, E4 motorway with rest area outside Nyköping, Sweden File:401 widest point.jpg, Ontario Highway 401, Highway 401 with Local-express lanes, collector and express lanes in Mississauga,
Ontario , Label_map = yes , image_map = Ontario in Canada 2.svg , map_alt = Map showing Ontario's location east/central of Canada. , coordinates = , capital = Toronto , larges ...
, Canada File:Garching_Bundesautobahn_9.jpg, Multi-lane Autobahn 9 in Munich, Germany File:Pan-American Highway-Mancora, Peru.jpg, The Pan-American Highway where it serves as the main street in Máncora, Peru File:PRC Expressway.jpg, A typical expressway in China File:S85(Guizhou) Duyun Direction Exit 332 close to G75.jpg, An expressway exit in Guizhou, China File:North Lantau Highway near Citygate (Hong Kong).jpg, North Lantau Highway in Hong Kong File: Delhi Noida Direct flyway (Uttar Pradesh - 2011-06-18).jpg, A typical expressway in India File:Delhi Gurgaon Toll Gate.jpg, 32-lane toll plaza at Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway in Gurgaon, India File:HIghway Chennai Bangalore.jpg, Chennai-Bangalore Golden Quadrilateral, Highway File:Express highway.jpg, Mumbai Pune Expressway, India File:Kordestan-Resalat-Hakim.jpg, A highway interchange in Tehran, Iran File:Tokyo EXP way.JPG, The Metropolitan Expressway in Tokyo, Japan File:Kuwait highway.jpg, A highway in Kuwait City File:2007 08 21 China Pakistan Karakoram Highway Khunjerab Pass IMG 7295.jpg, Karakoram Highway, Pakistan File:FvfValenzuela1372 37.JPG, North Luzon Expressway, the Philippines File:Jisu IC in Namhae Expressway.JPG, Namhae Expressway in Jinju, South Korea File:The-Expressway_at_Ja-ela.jpg, Ja-Ela Interchange in the E03 expressway (Sri Lanka), Airport Expressway(E03) in Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka File:Dubai Roads on 1 May 2007.jpg, 3/4 highway interchange in Dubai, United Arab Emirates File:Quoclo1Amoi.JPG, National Route 1A (Vietnam), National Route 1A near Tu Son, Từ Sơn, Vietnam

See also


* Bypass route * Controlled-access highway * Divided highway, Divided highway (dual carriageway) * Freeway * Highway systems by country * Highwayman * Infrastructure * Limited-access road * List of roads and highways * Motorway * Parkway * Passing lane * Ring road * Road * Road junction * Road safety * Road transport * Roadway air dispersion modeling * Roadway noise * Toll road * Undivided highway, Undivided highway (single carriageway)

By country

* Algeria East–West Highway * Autobahns of Austria * ''Autoput'' and ''Autocesta'' * ''Rodovia'' * ''Avtomagistrala'' * Controlled-access highway#Canada, Highways in Canada * Expressways of China, Expressway * ''Autocesta'' * ''Dálnice'' * ''Autostrada'' * ''Autoroutes of France, Autoroute'' * Autobahns of Germany * ''Aftokinitodromos'' * ''Autópálya'' * National Highway (India), National Highways and Indian Expressways, Expressways * Motorway (Ireland), Motorway * List of highways in Israel * Autostrade of Italy * ''Expressways of Japan, Kōsokudōro'' * ''Malaysian expressway system, Lebuhraya'' * ''Mexican Federal Highway, Autopista de Carretera Federal'' * ''Autoroutes of Morocco, Autoroute'' * ''Avtopat'' * ''Motorvei'' * Motorways of Pakistan, Motorways and National Highways of Pakistan * ''Autoestrada'' Notable for the introduction of the world's first electronic toll collection system, the ''Via Verde''. * Russian federal highways * ''Autoput'' * ''Avtocesta'' * ''Highways in Spain, Autopista'' * ''Motorväg'' * Autobahns of Switzerland * Highway system in Taiwan, Freeways in Taiwan * State Highways (Ukraine) * Highways in the United Kingdom * ''Autofamba''


External links

Full list of Euroroutes with distances

The Greenroads Rating System

Proposed Trans-Global Highway

Euroroutes with distances

Ontario Super Highway Program (June 19, 2011)

Video of Highway 401 through Greater Toronto
{{Road types Highways, Road infrastructure Types of roads