Enforceable variable speed limit signs go live on three Canadian highways

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A network of enforceable variable speed limit signs has gone live on three highways in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) as part of a pilot project to help reduce the frequency and severity of weather-related crashes.

Introduced by the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the goal of variable speed limits is to improve driver safety during unfavorable weather conditions, and to reduce serious crashes in areas where weather patterns are prone to change quickly, making driving conditions dangerous.

Motorists are required to obey variable speed limit signs as they are regulatory. Police, therefore, have the authority to enforce the speed that is posted on the electronic sign at any given time. The new safety initiative targets critical sections of three of BC’s highways that are prone to weather-related crashes. Crews have now installed: 18 variable speed signs along Highway 1 (Trans-Canada) from Perry River to Revelstoke; 13 variable speed signs along Highway 5 (Coquihalla) from Portia Interchange to the former Toll Plaza; and 16 variable speed signs along Highway 99 (Sea to Sky) from Squamish to Function Junction at Whistler.

The variable speed limit program is also supported by recent changes in the BC Motor Vehicle Act regulations that allow police to enforce these posted speeds. Drivers are encouraged to be aware when they enter a variable speed limit zone that posted limits are the maximum speeds allowed. The digital signs will be very visible to drivers, and the speed limit will be adjusted to reflect driving conditions. Overhead Digital Message Signs (DMS) at the entrance of each corridor will inform drivers to be aware of changing weather conditions. Flashing amber lights will alert drivers when a reduced speed limit is in effect, and not the standard posted limits along these corridors.

An extensive system of traffic, pavement, and visibility sensors are calibrated to detect the current weather conditions and monitor real-time traffic speeds, to provide recommended speeds back to operations staff located in the Regional Traffic Management Center in Coquitlam. The Center then adjusts the electronic signs to let drivers know what speed they should be traveling during adverse weather conditions. 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. The ministry has invested C$12.5m (US$9.6m) to install and run the pilot systems that were largely made and manufactured in BC. The pilot program is part of the ministry’s C$25m (US$19.3m) per-year Road Safety Improvement Program, which was announced in the ‘BC on the Move’ 10-year transportation plan.

Launching the project, BC’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone (pictured), said, “Starting today, variable speed limit signs will be activated in three locations. It is important drivers understand that along these corridors, these signs aren’t ‘speed readers’; they are the law. These electronic signs will adjust the speed limit according to conditions and will require drivers to slow down and reduce their speed in bad weather.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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