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What’s The Difference Between a Highway and a Freeway in California?

According to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the state had over 177,000 miles of road as of 2021. While not every mile of these roads is the responsibility of Caltrans, the vast majority are made up of either state highways or freeways. If you spend any amount of time behind the wheel in California, you’re probably familiar with these two terms. But the question is, what is the difference between them, if there even is one?

Regardless of whether you travel on a highway or a freeway in California, there’s always the possibility that you could suffer an injury in an accident. When that happens, the team of personal injury lawyers at Maison Law can help you navigate the legal process. Don’t hesitate–contact us today to set up a free consultation to learn more.

Differences Between a Highway and a Freeway in California

In California, as in other areas, the terms highway and freeway are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there are some key differences between the two, mostly having to do with speed limits and other traffic control measures that are put in place.

Generally speaking a highway refers to any public road that connects two places. Also known as “state routes”, these are usually two-lane roads that contain:

  • Intersections
  • Traffic signals
  • Access points to businesses and residential areas

As for freeways, they also connect points in California, but are designed a bit differently. The key distinctions that make a freeway different than a highway include:

  • Limited access – Freeways are designed for high-speed travel and have limited access points. This means that you can only enter and exit the freeway at specific ramps or interchanges, and there are no at-grade intersections or traffic signals along the main lanes.
  • Higher speed limits – Freeways typically have higher speed limits than other highways. In California, the speed limit on most freeways is 65 or 70 miles per hour (mph), but it can vary in some areas.
  • Divided lanes – Freeways have divided lanes with a median or barrier separating opposing directions of traffic. This separation enhances safety and reduces the risk of head-on collisions.
  • No crossings – Unlike regular highways, freeways do not have at-grade crossings with intersecting roads or driveways. Instead, they use overpasses and underpasses to allow for uninterrupted traffic flow.
  • Designated route numbers – Freeways in California often have route numbers prefixed with “Interstate”, like Interstate 5 or I-5.

While there are distinct differences between a highway and a freeway, it’s important to remember that you should always take measures to drive in a way that helps you avoid accidents. This includes doing things like:

  • Always follow the posted speed limit
  • Pay attention while you’re behind the wheel
  • Don’t drive under the influence
  • Watch out for pedestrians and other vehicles if you’re on a highway

Types of Accidents on Highways and Freeways in California

Obviously, there are different styles of driving while on a freeway and a highway in California. With that said, the underlying causes of many car accidents that happen are present whether you’re on a highway or a freeway. After all, both are roadways that are used by thousands of other people in the state. Here is a look at some of the major types of accidents that you could see on California’s highways and freeways:

  • Rear-end accidents – These happen when one vehicle crashes into the back of another. They are common on highways and freeways due to sudden stops or slowdowns in traffic.
  • Side-impact accidents – Also known as T-bone accidents, these occur when one vehicle strikes the side of another, often at intersections or when changing lanes.
  • Multi-vehicle pile ups – Highways and freeways can witness large-scale accidents involving multiple vehicles, especially in adverse weather conditions or dense traffic.
  • Head-on collisions – Although less common on freeways due to their divided nature, head-on collisions can occur when a vehicle crosses the median or barrier and enters oncoming traffic.
  • Single-vehicle accidents – These involve only one vehicle and can include incidents like running off the road, hitting a barrier, or overturning.
  • Distracted driving accidents – Drivers using cell phones or engaging in other distractions can cause accidents on highways and freeways.
  • Speeding accidents – Speeding is a leading cause of accidents on these roads, leading to loss of control or difficulty in stopping in time to avoid collisions.
  • Lane change accidents – Accidents can happen when a driver fails to check blind spots or signals improperly when changing lanes.
  • Truck accidents – Due to the presence of commercial trucks, accidents involving large trucks, such as semi-trailers, can result in serious consequences.
  • Weather-related accidents – Fog, rain, and other adverse weather conditions can reduce visibility and road traction, contributing to accidents.
  • Wrong-way accidents – Some accidents occur when a driver enters a freeway in the wrong direction, leading to head-on collisions.
  • Rollover accidents – These involve a vehicle flipping onto its side or roof and can be particularly dangerous.

As you might expect, different types of accidents are more likely to occur on freeways than highways and vice-versa. However, any vehicle accident carries the possibility of serious, even fatal injuries. That’s why it’s important to know what your legal options are if you’re injured in one of these accidents.

What Are Your Legal Options After a Car Accident in California?

In California car accidents, the driver at fault for the accident is responsible for the damages and injuries. This means that if they acted negligently, they have breached their duty to drive safely and within the law.

With negligence established, you can proceed to filing a claim against the person at fault’s insurance company for financial support. In legal terms, these are known as “damages.” Generally, damages in a California car accident claim include:

  • Medical expenses and bills
  • Lost wages or lost earning potential
  • Damage to your vehicle or other property
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship or enjoyment of life
  • Punitive damages, if the other person was excessively negligent

It’s important to note that in California, there’s a two-year time limit (statute of limitations) from the accident date to file a personal injury claim. As such, it’s crucial to protect your rights and ensure you receive the support and benefits you deserve by contacting us today for a free consultation. We’ll make sure you get the treatment and representation you deserve.


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