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The word highway has two related but not congruent meanings in English. On the one hand, as a legal technical term, it describes any public traffic area that is open to everyone, regardless of the size or extent of the area. In this sense, a footpath, an unpaved secondary route or the airspace are also "public highways". In a second meaning, especially in the English-speaking part of North America , all main roads used for long-distance traffic are referred to as "highways". Contrary to popular belief among non-native speakers, "highway" does not necessarily mean an intersection-free expressway in both meanings and is therefore not a translation for the term Autobahn or the like.
Etymologically , the term is derived from the Old English heahweg , which means as much as main road, the from city to city. The adjective high can therefore be equated with main (e.g. main) .

Dixie Highway in Florida (1914)

United States

Early highways

The first transcontinental motorways emerged after 1913 and were called the National Auto Trail . They were often named after US presidents, for example the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco or the Jefferson Highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg in Canada . Another well-known highway was the Dixie Highway from Miami to Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan . These old names are still used sometimes.

These highways were marked by colored ribbons on telephone and telegraph poles, on which colored letters symbolized the street name. "L" stood for Lincoln Highway; "JH" between two blue stripes stood for Jefferson Highway; "DH" in white letters on a red background stood for Dixie Highway. Other roads were named after the signs, such as the Black Diamond Highway or Red Arrow Highway .

A “highway” has nothing to do with high speed. In the past, village streets were mostly raised to make them drivable for traffic from bad weather. The "traffic" consisted of horse-drawn carriages and ox carts.

United States Highway

US Highway 96
US Highway 163 (Arizona)

The United States Highway is the name given to the main American roads that correspond to the German federal highways or main roads . The term US route is sometimes used.

In 1924, traffic politicians planned the introduction of a nationwide network of through highways, known as the United States Highway . In the following year 1925, a provisional list of US highways was published. The final list was published on November 11, 1926. In 1927, the previous name plates were replaced by number plates, but these could have a different design in each state. Many US highways run through large and small towns as town throughs. The United States Highways , like the State Highways, are financed by the respective state.

The former US Highway 66 is probably the most famous US Highway. The longest is US Highway 20 , which runs from Boston, MA on the east coast across the continent for more than 5,400 kilometers to Newport, OR on the Pacific.

Interstate Highway

The American counterpart to the European highways are the Interstate Highways. In 2004 they comprised a route network with a length of 75,376 kilometers (46,837 miles). The first interstates were built in the 1950s on the initiative of then US President Eisenhower . All interstate highways have speed limits set by the respective states.

Top speed

The maximum speed is regulated by the states. Different US states had different rules for the federal highways and other two-lane country roads . Originally, the interstate highways were supposed to allow a cruising speed of 70 to 80 mph (113 to 129 km / h) on flat stretches . In 1974 the speed limit was lowered to 55 mph (89 km / h) in order to save gasoline after the 1973 oil crisis . After the end of the oil crisis, the speed limit to promote road safety was retained (“Drive 55 and stay alive!”), Which, however, met with little approval, especially in the sparsely populated states away from the big cities. It is true that the federal government had no legislative competence for this question; However, states that made deviating regulations threatened the suspension of federal funds for road construction , so that no state left the country.

In 1987, the speed limit on highways outside of urban areas was increased to 65 mph (105 km / h) if the states allowed it; 55 mph was maintained in urban areas and on two-lane country roads. Originally, the rules stated that highways that no interstate number had (eg. US 23 in Michigan ) were treated, nor as highways - this led to some renumbering (This is how in Illinois highways I-39 and I -88 , which previously operated as US 51 and IL 88 ). In 1995, maximum speed regulation was left entirely to the states.

Some states raised the speed limit to 70 or 75 mph (113 and 121 km / h), respectively. The state of Montana abolished the speed limit on interstate highways and encouraged motorists to drive “prudently and sensibly”. This regulation was declared unconstitutional because of its vague wording and a speed limit of 75 mph was introduced instead. Some Texas counties have a speed limit of 80 mph. Likewise, some states have a lower speed limit at night than during the day.


The highway network in Canada consists of the Trans-Canada Highway and the highways of the provinces .

See also

Web links

Commons : Highways  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Highway  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/highway
  2. ^ JJ Cummings, Ownership and Control of Airspace. Marquette Law Review, Vol. 37 (1953), No. 2, p. 176.
  3. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=highway (Reviewed: October 22, 2014)