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 Public Safety 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 multi-lane 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.

71 comments on “How Speed Limits are Set in BC: The Ultimate Guide”

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  1. The majority speed or “just right” speed in most cases is 15-20 KPH above the posted maximum speed posted in BC and everyone knows it. Just as you have mentioned in your article this causes frustration but for some reason nothing ever changes. Remember that the posted speed is the maximum speed implying that one could and should drive below this speed. I challenge you to go out into the real world and drive below the posted speed. You would have some pretty angry drivers behind you in no time and you’d probably be reported to the police for being impaired.

    Reply
    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your message. We understand your frustration. We acknowledge that while extremely high speeds are dangerous, lowering speed limits well below the majority of travellers can also pose safety risks. Our engineers do not take only the 85th percentile speed into consideration when posting limits on BC highways, we also consider:
      local land use and environment
      road classification
      highway geometry (sight distances, etc.)
      shoulder width, intersections and highway entrance points
      accident history on the highway
      volume and type of traffic on the highway.

      When all of these are factored into the equation – the posted speed limit is the result.

      Hope that this helps to clarify.

      Reply
      • You understand the frustration of 90% of drivers……the problem is nothing is ever done about it. 50KPH is bicycle speed. Standard 50KPH speed should be 70KPH and 80KPH should be bumped to 100 KPH across the board. Then lower them on a case to case basis.
        Remember we are talking about MAXIMUM speed which means drivers can drive slower if they feel like it. Right now the posted speed is really treated as the MINIMUM speed and you are encouraging people to break the law on a daily basis.

        Reply
  2. I keep reading that the speed limit is set by the average speed of a majority of drivers on a particular section of road. This is a complete lie. Most cars are driving between 15-20 KPH above the posted speed at most times. Very few drive at or below the posted speed and the ones that do cause extreme frustration as mentioned by you above. As far as I can tell you guys take the comfortable speed that most cars drive at, deduct 20 KPH and post that. Then the police hand out fines like another tax to support ICBC. What I’d like to see is a return to photo radar so the police, judges and the rest of the bureaucracy would have to pay traffic fines like the rest of us. The ticket just comes in the mail and there’s no getting out of it. Maybe then they will post proper speed limits.
    You guys should take a trip to New Zealand some time. They actually post reasonable speed limits and then enforce them with photo radar everywhere. Aside from driving on the wrong side of the road it’s a real breath of fresh air.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your message Tim – we appreciate hearing from you on this. We understand your frustration. We acknowledge that while extremely high speeds are dangerous, lowering speed limits well below the majority of travellers can also pose safety risks. Our engineers do not take only the 85th percentile speed into consideration when posting limits on BC highways, we also consider:
      local land use and environment
      road classification
      highway geometry (sight distances, etc.)
      shoulder width, intersections and highway entrance points
      accident history on the highway
      volume and type of traffic on the highway.

      When all of these are factored into the equation – the posted speed limit is the result.

      Hope that this helps to clarify.

      Reply
  3. Thank you for this forum. I have lived on Pender Island, BC, South Gulf Islands, for four years now. It is one of very few places where the drivers are great. The roads here are extremely windy and hilly with no shoulders to speak of. There are very few places where you can look away from the road to check your speed, but because of the road it really isn’t possible to drive faster than 30 to 60kms/h at any point. There are no signs on the island to designate speed except on extreme curves and down grades set at 30km/h. People who don’t live here create hazards, as they will drive to fast or to slow and tend cross over the center line which creates serious a problem as there is no where to go, no shoulders, just ditch or forest.

    This happened to me the yesterday, going into the Driftwood shopping center. Someone crossed the center line coming towards me, where I would normally shift into 3rd gear to descend a steep winding hill to the shopping center. It happened so suddenly that I had to speed up to avoid an accident. The road was slippery and wet, so I couldn’t slow down to quickly for fear of sliding. Luckily there was no other traffic on the road at that point. As I reached the bottom of the hill and started to slow down approaching the shopping center, an RCMP officer pulled me over for speeding. He said I was accelerating as I came down the hill and that I was doing 65km/h in a 50km/h zone. I have a very clean driving record, so not only was it disappointing, but I was trying to avoid an accident due to the other driver and there are no speed limits posted.

    According to CRD Pender Island is considered a rural district, as such BC Highways speed limits are suppose to be 80km/h. There are no signs designating speed on Pender Island or where I received the ticket. There may be one at the ferry terminal fifteen minutes away from the Driftwood center. It’s really not possible anywhere on this island to drive at 80km/h and there is no need to. I am curious to know exactly what is the speed limit on Pender Island? Mostly, we all driver safely here, as there are no shoulders on the roads which also poses a great risk for pedestrians and cyclists and so we try to take great care. Most of us are not rich either on this island, and there has never been an officer giving out tickets before. As such it seems to be important for more clarity for us all. Thank you for your attention and thoughts.
    Best Wishes
    Jesai

    Reply
    • Hello Jesai,

      Thanks for your message. We asked our traffic engineers your question and they let us know that Pender Island is covered under a blanket speed zone of 50 km/h. This speed zone was established in 1969 and covers all public roads on North and South Pender Island. So, unless otherwise posted, the speed limit on Pender is 50 km/h and has been for a very long time. We can’t confirm where exactly a sign is posted stating as such, but presume it is at the ferry terminal.

      Reply
  4. I would like to know how a person or persons go about having
    A speed limit changed. What steps do we need to take to start the process.
    Thank you. I await your reply.

    Brent Skode

    Reply
    • Hi Patricia,

      Looks like Kehler Street is in the Municipality of Chilliwack. Typically municipality roads are 50 km unless otherwise posted, but we encourage you to contact Chilliwack directly to confirm this.

      Reply
  5. Sea to Sky at 12mph above city streets is ludicrous.
    Its a high speed divided highway…..and you lowered it to
    80kmh.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jason. The BC Motor Vehicle Act establishes the basic or “statutory” speed limit on all public roads: 80km/h outside municipalities and 50km/h within municipalities.

      Reply
    • Good morning Marianne – Gundy Road is a Private Development Road and is unfortunately not a part of our public road inventory. We suggest you contact the BC Oil and Gas Commission. They should have the contact information for the company that owns Gundy Road. The Fort St John OGC contact is: 250-794-5200
      Hope that this helps!

      Reply
    • Hi Ed,

      Thanks for your comment. We aren’t sure we fully understand your question. The posted speed limit on the Upper Levels Highway in West Vancouver is 90 km/hr and 80km/hr through North Vancouver. Are you looking for other information than this? Let us know. Thanks!

      Reply
    • Hello Jenn – thanks for your question.

      The BC Motor Vehicle Act establishes the basic or “statutory” speed limit on all public roads: 80km/h outside municipalities and 50km/h within municipalities. The respective road authority (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure or incorporated municipality) may alter posted speed limits. If you live within a municipality, and you don’t see a posted speed limit sign on your residential road, check directly with them. Hope that this helps.

      Reply
  6. How does someone go about suggesting a modification where speed limits change? Along Highway 3 in Jaffray, there is a 70/100 change and where it is currently placed is dangerous – the transition should be much further East so traffic can properly slow down before town as well as not speed up so quickly while still in town. Is there something formal I can request?

    Reply
    • Hi Adam – thanks for letting us know your concern. We are going to share this concern with our traffic engineers who recently reviewed the speed limits across the province, and ask them for their input on why the speed it set as it is in this location. Stay tuned.

      Reply
    • Hello again Adam, we sent your comment forward to our engineers and they have asked that you connect directly with the local area manager regarding your request. Local Area Road Managers know everything about the operation of the roads they look after and are familiar with all aspects of road operations, including their speed zoning. As such, they would explain the rationale behind the current speed limit in place. They can also ask the regional traffic engineering team to review zones in their area. The Road Area Manager for Jaffray is:
      Monique Gairns
      (250) 426-1519 (O)
      Monique.Gairns@gov.bc.ca

      Hope that this helps!

      Reply
  7. I have noticed a lot of drivers seem to speed up prier to reaching a speed limit changed sign. For example In Chetwynd they moved a speed sign so when heading east just before a driver climbs what locals call Wabbi hill, most drivers start to accelerate from 50 to 70km from 1/2 km to 3/4 of a km from the 70km sign and are doing 80km+ when they go by the 70km sign before they get to the 100km speed sign they are doing 100+kms (this is baced on how fast they pass me and when I see them going past the signs and not on me trying to clock their speed with my vehicle). I know it’s been a while since I took my drivers training but is there not something in the drivers manual that explains when it is safe for drivers to change their speeds? Or where would someone learn the proper time to accelerate or decelerate?

    Reply
  8. Highway 17 from Surrey to Delta is 80Km/h.. NOBODY goes 80.. everyone goes 100 or 110.. why is it still 80? its unsafe and dangerous to have such slow drivers on such a fast road.. even the semi trucks drive 120 on it.. I don’t get it BC.. your speed limits are soo Nanny state.. oh no my children are gonna crash and die if I let them drive a reasonable speed for the conditions and let them be adults who drive cars instead of treating them like children.. anyways freeways everywhere else in the world are like 130km/h.. highways are 100.. country roads are 80.. city roads are 50 or 60. and in dense areas its sometimes 30.. but it feels right.. it feels like 100 is a max.. it feels like 130 is crazy in the rain.. it feels like 60 is too fast sometimes too.. the speed limits everywhere else I’ve been are actual limits.. here we have this 85th percentile shit.. but obviously they don’t check with the 85% of us who drive 20km over the speed limit on a regular basis because its simply too slow.. anyways I’ve got 2 speed tickets not his damn road.. and Im fighting them because they are unjust.. especially when everyones doing it.. and 85th percentile means nothing obviously when people obviously know its still safe..

    Reply
    • Hi Anonymous,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on speed limits set for Highway 17 from Surrey to Delta.

      I will forward you comments to our traffic engineers responsible for that area.

      Reply
  9. I live in Tulameen,BC, Otter Road runs through the middle of the community and has a posted speed limit of 50KMH. The speed limit needs to reduced to 30, on any given weekend this road can be lined with any number of cars, trucks, quads, motorcycles, bikes, children, dogs, side by sides, or all of them at one time. The shoulder is gravel and is very dusty. If Princeton can have a 30 k zone in their downtown store fronts, a resort town with a highway running through the middle should have also. There 10 intersections on this stretch through town and there are over 50 driveways accessing this road.

    Reply
    • Hi Linda,

      Thanks for connecting with us here. Do you know if Otter Road is the responsibility of Tulameen? Is Tulameen incorporated?

      Reply
          • On a side note is it possible to have the gravel removed from the road edge from the winter.

          • Sweeping the roads is the responsibility of the maintenance contractor (Argo). They will typically do this in the spring, once the snow has melted. We will share your request with our local area manager, but you can also send in a request directly to Argo at: 1-800-661-2025

          • Hi there Linda,

            Our local area manager just informed us that Argo should start their routine sweeping work in your area next week.

  10. I live on departure bay road in Nanaimo across from a popular beach and childrens play area. I can not understand why the speed limit along this beach strip is 50 km/h.This is a very busy playground and also very busy roadway. The motor vehicles act states playground speed limits are 30 km\h from dawn to dusk.

    Reply
  11. I really don’t understand, why the main road our driveway ends too is a 80 Zone!
    We got 2 young children and not the only family on this road, we all are afraid that our kids will be run over by the many people who are rushing from and to the Ferries daily !!! Who would not think about all the families who lives here on this road? … Not acceptable!!! should be a 30 or max 50 zone. Not at all a 80 zone!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  12. 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.

    Reply
  13. 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

    Reply
  14. 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

    Reply
  15. 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.

    Reply
  16. 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.

    Reply
  17. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  18. 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.

    Reply
  19. 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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
  20. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  21. 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.

    Reply
  22. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  23. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • “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.

        Reply