How Speed Limits are Set in BC: The Ultimate Guide

Discussions around speed limits in British Columbia accelerate every once in a while. Some people want to see higher limits, some want lower limits, and others like them just the way they are. You might even have chimed in yourself – whether through social media, a letter to an editor, or simply chatting with friends and colleagues.

speed limits on BC HighwaysThe conversation certainly gets rolling on the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Twitter and Facebook channels, which compelled us to help bring some clarity to the issue by giving an overview of how the ministry has studied and determined speed limits using public safety as its top priority.

While the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General is responsible for enforcing speed limits, our ministry sets the posted limits on provincial roadways.

Before highway construction even begins, engineers create a design according to the intended use of the roadway and the design speed. This is based on a number of engineering factors, road classifications (four-lane freeway, two-lane freeway, etc.) and others, including local land use, roadway geometry, intersection design and spacing.

The Motor Vehicle Act states that unless otherwise posted, the basic limit for all provincial highways is 80 km/h in rural environments, and 50 km/h within urban municipalities. So, if speeds other than these basic speeds are required, the ministry is tasked with setting or adjusting the limits.

Traffic engineers set speed limits according to the following factors:

  • The local land use indicating the driving environment
  • The road classification
  • The highway geometry, such as how much sight distance is available to stop in time for an object up ahead
  • Features such as shoulder width and the number of intersections and highway entrances
  • The history of the highway, including number and types of incidents
  • The volume of traffic and vehicle types/modes of transportation using the highway (passenger cars, trucks, pedestrians, bicycles, etc.)

Motorists’ behaviours are also taken into account when establishing a speed limit zone. Most drivers are sensible and will naturally drive at a reasonable speed to reach their destination safely. As such, the ministry uses the “majority” concept as a guiding principle for evaluating speed limits. The “majority” speed represents that speed at or below which most of the traffic is moving in ideal road conditions, and is widely accepted in North America as being closest to that “just right” speed limit motorists will comply with.


speed limits on BC Highways

Speed limits increased on Highway 97 after improvements

While extremely high speeds are dangerous, lowering speed limits well below the majority of travellers can also pose safety risks. Drivers become frustrated when speed limits do not reflect road characteristics, resulting in rash decisions and dangerous driving behaviour. And when drivers’ speeds vary drastically, there are more instances of unsafe passing, rear-end collisions and weaving on multilane roads. It’s all about finding a balance.

In some cases, the ministry will review a highway’s speed limit after improvements are completed or as land use around the area evolves. Take the Cariboo Connector strategy for example, which is expanding parts of Highway 97 between Prince George and Cache Creek from two to four lanes and reducing curves in the road. These ongoing design improvements are making the highway safer, and allowing us to increase speed limits to 100 km/h from 90 km/h on some sections as construction is completed. Speed limits do change. We also recently reviewed and increased the speed limit from 90 km/h to 100 km/h along sections of the Trans-Canada Highway near Kamloops, Sorrento, and from Savona to Cache Creek, after they underwent safety improvements.

We want to make sure highway travellers can move throughout the province efficiently and, most importantly, safely. Commissioning research and consulting with stakeholders, along with performing speed limit reviews as highways improve, is how we’ve been managing our responsibility to set speed zones on provincial highways. Discussions are healthy, and this one is likely to continue in newspapers and around dinner tables. But putting travellers at greater risk is not up for debate.

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29 Responses to How Speed Limits are Set in BC: The Ultimate Guide

  1. Patrick Gavin on February 5, 2017 at 3:57 am

    I am quite dismayed at the lack of policing or engineering for speeding drivers in West Vancouver to Burnaby along Highway 1 . We have only 2 exit points to the south. Highway 1 has some major engineering flaws that are due to the bridge crossing allignment at Capilano River, and the snakey mess at the bottom of the cut onto the second narrows. I really can’t understand why the government is so cheap that they dont either FIX IT, or police it so people get the MESSAGE. People drive way too fast in these areas and subsequently cause huge delay costs to loss of revenue for people crossing the two bridges. Everytime it rains after a dry spell, people wonder why did that car slam into the corner, and cause a pile up. But the occassional accident will happen anywhere. The problem is you can’t expect the unfamiliar, distracted, uneducated drivers who cause these accidents to be as responsible for an engineering and enforcement problem. Each accident costs Canada more than would enforcing the speed limit with cameras or cops in loss of earnings due to multiple car pile ups and delays to motorists during rush hour and loss of life during other times. Put in cameras. Fine them appropriately. And make them all do community time cleaning the garbage off the street wearing a sign saying they were a speed violator.

    • tranbceditor on February 9, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Thank you Patrick,

      We have shared your concern forward with the local area office for review.

  2. Anonymous on January 30, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Morning everyone just happen to stumble onto this site. Totally agree with Michel.For I too live in 70 Mi House on the hwy. If Any one agrees to th lowering th speed limit here
    pls let it be known to Min Hwys 100 mi bc, DOT Kamloops BC, Clinton RCMP. Did you know w are th only community in BC wifi no reduced speed limit.Go figure. Yours Tridawn

  3. Michel on January 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Around 70 mile house junction the speed would be better suited to be reduced as the log truck traffic pulling out there makes this location very daunting

    • tranbceditor on January 24, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Good point Michel. Please remember to include your feedback at

    • Anonymous on January 30, 2014 at 8:23 am

      Morning everyone just happen to stumble onto this site. Totally agree with Michel.For I too live in 70 Mi House on the hwy. If Any one agrees to th lowering th speed limit here pls let it be known to Min Hwys 100 mi bc, DOT Kamloops BC, Clinton RCMP. Did you know w are th only community in BC wifi no reduced speed limit.Go figure. Yours Tridawn

  4. Ron Kuzyk on December 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Many drivers are seriously overestimating their driving abilities concerning speed. After driving for a while they lulled into a false sense of security and are so surprised after colliding with an animal or after spinning off the road. They always say something to either blame the road or the animal. These kinds of “accidents” could be minimized with a lower speed limit. Also what about fuel economy and this crap about carbon emissions? Perhaps with today’s fuel prices and insurance rates a lower speed limit is warranted. Don’t’ even get me started about the idiots texting and how the police are virtually powerless to stop.

  5. dave welsh on November 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Commerce cannot flow safely and efficiently on roads fundamentally unchanged since they were designed in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I speak primarily of the hazards to which motorists are now placed, because of the excessive amount of heavy truck traffic permitted to roll on 2 lane highways such as 1, 16 and southbound to Kamloops. The Rogers Pass highway between Golden and Revelstoke on the evening of November 8, 2013, was nothing less than perilous because of the wet conditions, with muddy spray from the dozens upon dozens of multiple wheelers eliminating visibility especially in the turns. Trucks should have been halted at Golden as soon as darkness fell. The mountains present challenges for highway designers, but truck traffic must be restrained. Much of the cargo now travelling by truck ought to go by rail, which will require federal and provincial legislative intervention. Finally, it is disgraceful that Canada’s alleged Trans-Canada Highway, though BC, has not been upgraded everywhere to even 1965’s Interstate Highway standards. The Federal government’s meager efforts to fund highway upgrades, are unsatisfactory.

  6. Tim Yzerman on September 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

    In order to have higher speed limits BC needs to address the shoulder widths. There are many areas with inadequate shoulder widths for cyclists creating potentially deadly situations. Take highway 16 for example between Prince George and Vanderhoof. The speed limit is 100 km/h but for large portions of it it only has a 30 cm wide paved shoulder. The shoulder should be at least 2.0 m to provide safe passing of cyclists while remaining in ones lane and provide safe stopping areas for broken vehicles.

    It is pretty typical to see sections of highway where shoulders disappear completely for sections with a passing lane, concrete no post barrier or tunnels. These sections of highway need to be addressed. There are many other shoulder hazards as well including catch basins, debris and rumble strips.

    In order for speed limits to be raised safety needs to be addressed for all users. Even current speed limits do not allow for safe cycling so these issues need to be addressed.

    The highways ministry should plan and fund physically separated bike routes. New highway installations should include separated routes including the Highway 99 corridor. I was very disappointed that the SFPR did not include a parallel multi-use path.

    • tranbceditor on October 1, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Thanks for your feedback Tim. We will share your concern about Highway 16 with the area office. With the recent announcement of the replacement of the Massey Tunnel along Highway 99, we are focused on planning for transit/cycling solutions that will provide the most benefit to commuters and travellers along this corridor.

  7. tranbceditor on August 29, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for this insight Trev. We will share your comment with the engineering department!

    • trev on August 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      Thank you very much. i appreciate that!!

  8. michael on August 23, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    A law which is not obeyed by even 50% of the population is a terrible law. It incites disrespect for the law. 1950s speed limits are easy to justify by the lazy approach of chanting a single slogan: “safety, safety, safety.” How can anyone be against safety. But a zero speed limit would be the ultimate in safety. The speed limit should be set at that speed which 90% of the population drive below.

    • tranbceditor on August 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Hi Michael,

      Thank you for your feedback. We will share it with our engineering branch.

  9. Bob on August 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    The 85th percentile speed, alluded to in the article, and over-relied upon by the engineers is an outdated concept developed by the US Highways Administration in the 1960’s. While it may still have some validity on major divided highways, engineers, perhaps out of sheer laziness, have adopted this as a rule of thumb for all roads. According to the 85th percentile rule the slower you go the more danger you are in. This is just plain stupidity on roads other than major highways. The default speed limit should not be more than 40 kph for municipal streets and even better, 30 kph for residential streets. This would allow municipalities the freedom to set higher limits for major cross town connectors without having to post the lower, more appropriate, speed limits on the much more numerous residential streets. It is time our traffic engineers moved into the 21st century. Roads are for moving people, not just for cars!

    • John on July 24, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      Is this site even monitored any more? If so, I whole heartedly agree with Bob’s position on lowering the urban street traffic speed to 30 km/hr.
      Municipal road engineers are still designing streets to the 50 km/hr standard and then when actual speeds creep up to 60-70 km/hr because the streets are inviting those speeds, traffic calming measures are called for and if those don’t succeed because of lack of support it falls on the police to enforce the speeds. Needless to say, its not a high priority for police and so the neighbourhood suffers the consequences of this provincial guideline.

      Time to change it. And don’t leave it to the BCFM as they whine about the cost of the replacing signage.

      • tranbceditor on July 24, 2017 at 6:22 pm

        Hi John,

        Thanks for your comments about lowering speed limits in urban areas. I will share them forward with our people responsible for setting speed advisories.

        Please be aware that the speed set on most municipal roads, is chosen by the city, town, village, etc.

  10. BiscottiGelato on August 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    We need to pass laws such that the ministry have to transparently publish how speed limits are set for all roads.

    We need to look towards a better motoring country like Germany as our goal, where the roads are not only safer, but also much more efficient to travel on… Is this too much to ask for from TranBC?

    • Vikram V. Shivishankar on August 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      There is a law for this BiscottiGelato. It’s called the Freedom of Information (and Protection of Privacy) Act. Simply ask and you’ll receive whatever public documents you wish.

  11. Brody on August 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    The speed limits are not to blame. People need to exercise more patience and stop acting as if the world owes them everything. I used to be this way until I realized patience in fact does work. I travel from Vancouver to the Kootenays often and have found that I make the exact same time whether I speed or go the speed limit. Also, driving in the lower mainland I often laugh when people race to the next red light. It’s as if they can’t wait to wear out their vehicle faster… I have to agree that sometimes speed limits feel too low but if people were more patient they’d realize speeding is just another bad habit that will eventually lead to bigger problems.

  12. Kevin on August 21, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    It says in the article there are a number of factors are used in determining speed limits. Sight lines, the terrain, and the types of vehicles on the road are a few. A couple things people fail to realize is that BC is very mountainous terrain, and believe it or not, four wheel vehicles are not the only thing on the road.
    Varying speeds has been a reason cited as a dangerous situation. This makes it dangerous for the excessive speeds that people already travel. If you’re traveling at your usual 130+ kmh and you come around a corner to see a semi truck doing only 50 kmh because of a crazy little thing called gravity, then YOU have created a dangerous situation because you have to slam on your brakes and/or swerve into another lane.
    The short amount of time you save by doing 20 – 30 kmh over is not worth the risks you put everyone in.

    • Ron on May 25, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      You are joking right !!! people in BC don’t see mountains etc . I don’t think you should be commenting anymore Kevin and perhaps you should hand in your license

  13. carew on August 20, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    ^Exactly, it’s been proven that speed limits are set counterintuitively, this is just further proof.

  14. Sam on August 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    18,000 drivers have had their vehicles impounded since 2010 for “excessive speed”, and these are just the ones who were caught. That doesn’t include drivers who drive 10-30kph over the limit on our freeways.

    This level of compliance with freeway limits is a pretty clear indication that speed limits aren’t set according to 85th percentile travel speeds in BC.

    • Kevin on August 21, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      The majority of people’s speed was only one factor in the decision making. Just because most people drive too fast, doesn’t make it right.

      • Ronald Niven on December 30, 2013 at 8:24 am

        “just because most people drive too fast,doesn’t make it right”…

        What utter nonsense. The speed limit in B.C. before we were converted to the “metric system” was 70 mph as it continues to be in Washington State. That was in the days of inferior automobiles. Kevin can drive at a slower speed in the right hand lane if he chooses. He inferior driving abilities should not reflect on other skilled drivers. In fact, if Kevin is not capable, he should not have a drivers licence.

        • Ron on May 25, 2015 at 1:01 pm

          Well Said !

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