Know When to Slow for Weather With Variable Speed Signs

We’re big fans of the maxim: “drive to conditions.” Highway travellers improve their safety dramatically by following those three words, especially in winter.

Our highway engineers set speed limits based on IDEAL driving conditions – think bare, dry roads and warm, clear weather. Once factors mess with these conditions – be it fog, rain, snow… whatever – drivers should adjust by slowing to a sensible speed.

Now, you may have noticed crews installing new signs on sections of the Coquihalla, the Trans-Canada, and the Sea to Sky Highway. These are digital variable speed signs, part of a pilot project to reduce weather-related crashes by helping drivers know when to slow down, depending on current conditions.

How Many, and Where?

  • Highway 1 from Perry River to Revelstoke (18 signs)
  • Coquihalla from Portia Interchange to the former Toll Plaza (13 signs)
  • Sea to Sky from Squamish to Function Junction, Whistler (16 signs)

variable speed limit systems

How Do They Work?

There will be a system of traffic, pavement and visibility sensors set up to detect conditions and provide operations staff with recommended speeds. BC’s weather changes quickly, especially in high elevation mountain passes; operations staff will continuously monitor the conditions information and adjust the digital variable speed signs accordingly. Overhead message signs will let travellers know when they’re entering a variable speed zone, and warn drivers to be aware of changing weather conditions. Variable speed limits will be enforceable by police.

Installing variable speed limit sign on Highway 1 in November, 2015.

Installing variable speed limit sign on Highway 1 in November, 2015.

The Importance of Testing

We need the system’s accuracy to be spot-on before travellers can see the digital signs. Once everything is installed (poles, signs, optical sensors), we will spend two to three months testing and refining with the signs covered. We anticipate the system will be ready to go live by early 2016.

The variable speed limit pilot project is part of the Road Safety Improvement Program included in BC on the Move, the ministry’s 10-year Transportation Plan.

What do you think about the variable message sign pilot project? Do you think it will help you Shift Into Winter? Let us know in the comments section below.

Variable speed limit sign in winter

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28 Responses to Know When to Slow for Weather With Variable Speed Signs

  1. Ed on December 2, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    Signs can’t prevent stupid. Signs waste money that could be spent on plowing and sanding

    • tranbceditor on December 3, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Thanks for your feedback Ed. We are hopeful that this trial will prove a helpful tool in addition to plowing and sanding.

  2. Kellie on December 2, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    It’s about time… I have no idea why this took so long to implement. I hope this helps people drive safe.

  3. Ken on December 2, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Sadly it’s come to this, variable speed limit signs. Who knows how many times I’ve been on the Coquihalla in the winter driving to conditions…sometimes slowing to as slow as 35Kph tops in heavy heavy HEAVY snow conditions only to get passed by people thinking they can still do triple digit speeds. All too often the usual happens I come across these often braindead people slid off the road. People need to learn that even though the speed limit may be oh let’s say 120Kph, you certainly don’t want to be doing anywhere close to that in seriously heavy snow.

  4. Floyd Friend on December 2, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Waste of money. No one pays any attention to speed signs and most people drive like idiots in the rain and in winter conditions. There are 75000 auto accidents a year in BC witch proves my point. Speeding is quite low on the priority list because not enough people are killed or injured to worry about it. The police show the colors when their is nothing better to do. The S. G.’s office are not serious about making and enforcing laws that will reduce accidents.They are afraid of their jobs, don’t want to offend the bad guy’s, cost the gov’t votes or it’s not their job and the computer says that they can’t do any thing about it. The whole bunch are are a waste of time and money just like your signs! Signed FED UP!

    • tranbceditor on December 3, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Hi Floyd,

      We are sorry to hear you are frustrated. Thanks for sharing your concerns. We will make sure your comments are passed on to the project manager for this test project.

  5. Nick Thomas on December 3, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Two to three months testing – i.e. December, January, Feburary. Oh well, maybe they will reduce accidents NEXT year.

  6. Nick Thomas on December 3, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Perhaps your analysts felt they needed accident data from two winters with a 100 km/h limit to compare with the variable speed limits and the previous 90 km/h limit? When can we expect the Ministry to publicize the results of this trial and are you going to analyze and publicize the results of the recent increase in speed limits?

    • tranbceditor on December 3, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks again for connecting with us here. We have asked the project manager when the data/results from this trial will be made public, so stay tuned for that. We expect the results from the speed limit increase to be released by the end of December or possibly early January.

    • tranbceditor on December 3, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Hello again Nick,

      We spoke with the project manager responsible for the variable speed limit sign pilot project and she confirmed that a status report on the effectiveness of the project will be shared out after the project has been up and running for approximately a year.

  7. Nick Thomas on December 3, 2015 at 9:41 am

    Just another morning with a snowstorm and drivers not driving to conditions. Two sets of flaggers out between Perry River and Revelstoke flagging MVIs. Just winter as usual out here.

  8. Stephane Paiement on December 3, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Interesting concept. Now, are those signs will be added in the z-series of signs and when does Trans BC will publish a new updated version of the MUTCD? The most recent version available on your site date of 2000…A lot of signs have changed since. A new version for 2016 would be great.

  9. Rhonda on January 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    How can we please please get one of these for Highway 19 on the island … before anymore deaths happen!!
    For some reason the island has the worst unique driving conditions in the winter with hydroplaning, black ice – the rain comes down so hard you can’t see 10 ft in front of you, fog so dense you can’t see the edges of the rd – the wind gusts through the cook creek area sometimes get up to over 100km an hr – sure 120 km is fine to go in the summer – ??but seriously if you’ve never driven this highway before -However no matter how good of a driver you are – it only takes a split second to loose control under these conditions – could possibly be put in on high crash sites.. Im begging – how much does one of these variable speed signs cost ???

    • tranbceditor on January 15, 2016 at 9:30 am

      Hi Rhonda,

      Thanks for connecting with us and sharing your concerns. The signs that we have installed are part of a pilot project but if the project proves successful, we will be looking for other locations to install the signs in. I have shared your feedback with the project manager for review.

  10. lin on June 3, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    Hi, I think this idea is brilliant. Most people don’t drive to road conditions and think they are on the Auto-Bond. It is a fact that speed kills. I just want to get to my destination safely. I worry about the other fellow. Is he a cautious driver? Does he know my life as well as his is in his hands? Probably not. Since drivers don’t use common sense and slow down during unsafe driving conditions, I am super happy that speed limits are reset and this makes drivers accountable for their actions. I do agree with Ronda that we need these signs on the Island. Highway 19 and the Malahat can be a nightmare to drive with the weather conditions changing at any minute, especially in the fall and winter. Thank you for keeping us safer on the roads and highways. Keep up your brilliant work.

    • tranbceditor on June 6, 2016 at 10:21 am

      Hi Lin,

      Thanks for connecting with us here and for your positive feedback. We will be sure to send your suggestion for variable speed limit signage on Vancouver Island.

  11. John Carsley on June 14, 2016 at 10:32 am

    This very expensive outlay for a very limited system will be of no avail unless there is a huge increase in enforcement. We desperately need the return of electronic speed monitoring – proven to reduce crashes.

    Is every driver who goes off the road on the Coquihalla in winter ticketed for driving too fast for conditions? Surely, sliding off the road is proof of excessive speed.

    Finally, you must stop listening to S.E.N.S.E. If any advocacy group can be said to have blood on their hands, it must be them. Never, ever anoint them as “stakeholders” again in any of your deliberations; it’s totally ridiculous, as are they.

    • tranbceditor on June 15, 2016 at 11:06 am

      Hi John,

      Thanks for connecting with us here and sharing your concern. The purpose of the Variable Speed Limit System is to determine the appropriate speed limit when conditions deteriorate due to unpredictable weather events. Hwy 5, Snowshed Hill experiences 78% of its serious collisions in the winter months. The BC RCMP are supportive of these systems. Hope that this helps.

  12. Shazeen on November 23, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Great initiative! Curious to know.. what is the cost of implementation? I’m a transportation planner looking for programs or projects that can address key issues. We have a problematic section of the highway at the cut between west van and north van and the bottom of the cut near Second Narrows bridge.. can these signs be implemented as a stand alone? What kind of staffing/time is required for implementation? Sems these accidents only happen during poor weather. Could help make people more aware of what appropriate speeds are during heavy rainfall. Thanks!

    • tranbceditor on November 30, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      Hello Shazeen,

      We have sent your comment forward to our Traffic Engineering unit for review. Stay tuned!

    • tranbceditor on December 7, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Hello Shazeen,

      We have lots of information to share with you about the costs associated with this program. Please connect directly with the program manager, Jennifer Locke at 1 (604) 527-2299. Thanks!

  13. Jay on November 29, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Just checked Drive BC before heading to the coquihalla but the variable speed limit sign section is gone?

    • tranbceditor on November 30, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Hi Jay,

      We have been experiencing some technical difficulties with the Variable Speed Limit layer on DriveBC. We are working on it and hope to have it back up and running as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience!

  14. Brendan McCullough on November 30, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    In the case of a conflict between the variable and fixed speed limit signs, which prevails?

    • tranbceditor on December 1, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Hello Brendan,

      All signs and sensors have backup power, but should a power outage occur, or a speed sign is blank, drivers are to maintain the speed of the last posted speed sign.

  15. Don Preston on March 8, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Drove back from Whistler on Sea to Sky highway on January 7. Left Whistler at approximately 6:00 pm.
    Both the driver of the car and I have driven round trips on this highway at least 20 times during the winter since the mid 80’s so we know the highway and the changes very well. We are both very experienced winter drivers.
    When we saw the sign at Function Junction suggesting speed of 80kmh we were flabbergasted. The snow on the highway was very wet and very heavy. It was heavy enough that if you drove out of the tracked down section of road it would be difficult driving with an AWD and you did not have a AWD vehicle it would be dangerous. The conditions got worse as we went south. When we saw the 100kmh posted in the Cheakamus Canyon we were even more flabbergasted. The conditions were bad enough that a large truck would probably need chains. the variable speed signs throughout the trip until we got to Squamish were posting speeds that were at least 20 kmk and probably 40kmh too high. You need to evaluate your equations to accommodate air above the highway which is quite a bit colder than the highway itself….

    • tranbceditor on March 9, 2017 at 11:16 am

      Hello Don,

      Thanks for connecting with us here and sharing your concern. We have sent your comment forward to the area manager for review.

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