Road Safety Advice – 66 Characters at a Time

Short, succinct and speaking to you in 66 characters or less, our dynamic message signs have a lot to say about safety.

WHAT are dynamic message signs? You’ve likely noticed our big message signs overhead, and you may have seen them pictured on the DriveBC map. We call them “dynamic,” because their electronic messages change to help you stay safe and informed on the road – using two lines (or three lines on our biggest signs) of up to 22 characters each. They let you know what’s on the road ahead, so you’re prepared to drive to the conditions.

DMSHOW do they help you stay safe? At times, the signs report incidents like vehicle crashes or mudslides, climatic conditions like slushy sections or black ice, or planned events like avalanche control, line painting or construction. They may also issue amber alerts to advise travellers of missing children; or Provincial Emergency Program information, like tsunami warnings in coastal areas.

WHERE are the signs? Check out the DriveBC map to see the location of our approximately 82 signs permanently located around the province. Just click on the Dynamic Message Sign icon, on the legend at the right side of your screen.

DriveBC Display

WHY short messages? We want to be sure our safety notices can be absorbed by motorists in motion, so we follow pre-approved guidelines so they can be read at least once. Short words, common language, numbers, symbols and standardized abbreviations, are used to put across the point.

WHEN there is nothing out of the ordinary on a highway, what do you do? If it’s “business as usual” and there is no traffic, roadway or traveller news for the stretch ahead, we program the signs with other road-related reminders. This month, we’re spreading the message sent out by ICBC and the RCMP that distracted driving is a big problem. So, the big overhead boards urge drivers to focus on the road and not their cell phones.

Often, we time the message with the calendar; for example, you might see “ROAD CHECKS ON NOW”, during the December festive season. In summer, they might speak about campfire bans in the area. When there are frequent weather changes, due to the season, a dynamic message sign could caution, “CHANGING WEATHER CONDITIONS, PLEASE DRIVE SAFELY”.

Programming DMS

WHO chooses the messages? Ministry and maintenance contractor staff from around the province, along with our safety partners like police and ICBC, advise DriveBC employees of what motorists need to know. When the words are programmed onto the various signs, the signs’ messages also show up on our DriveBC map.

The signs are among our intelligent transportation system (ITS) tools to keep you safe. A few are even smart changeable message signs which connect to a nearby ministry weather station or sensor, to let drivers know instantly about conditions they need to cruise with care.

The message may be brief and simple but our dynamic signs speak volumes about staying safe on B.C. roads.

10 comments on “Road Safety Advice – 66 Characters at a Time”

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  1. why not employ as many safet messages as available on the overhead signs ie.
    slow down and live
    speed kills
    drive road conditions
    fasten seat belts
    use tail lamps in darkness
    maintain safe following distance
    use caution passing
    pass when its safe

  2. I take the upper levels highway in West Vancouver every day, and I have been distracted several times by the dynamic message sign 11-1 (route 99 northbound, near the Cypress mountain exit.) The message is too long to read in one screen, so it flashes to a second “page”. I have enough time to read a message such as “road closure” or “icy conditions ahead” but I don’t think this is the appropriate location to tell drivers to “share your input on future priorities bc on the move survey at drive” (that is the current message today.)This message is way too long, and irrelevant for drivers when they are actually driving. I think the purpose of the dynamic message signs is to update drivers on the conditions of the road ahead, and as such, that is all we should be concentrating on. I hope this concern will get to the right person, and that the use of these signs will be kept to their original purpose. Thank you.

    • Hi Beth,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your concern with us. We contacted our area office regarding your comment and they assured us safety messages, such as “icy roads” etc., take priority on our reader boards, and if conditions such as those were an issue the current messaging would be replaced immediately. The #BContheMove messaging will only be in place until December 12th. Hope that this helps!

  3. Daytime Running Lights – It’s the Law. Can you put up this notice on the dynamic signs? We are seeing an epidemic of vehicles running around without daytime running lights. Education trumps enforcement, right?

  4. It would be of considerable safety value to have changeable message signs display the wording “CAUTION OVERSIZE LOADS” when permits are issued for specific routes where loads exceed a width of 14 feet or 4.26 meters or lengths greater than 100 feet or 30.48 meters. There is no need to use dynamic message signs for over height loads unless they involve a combination of safety concerns which are engineer accompany or police escorts due to additional safety concerns.
    The use of dynamic message sign information for the foregoing would be considered of extreme safety value as many of these loads will be travelling along two lane highways on their ways to Alberta throughout the winter months, where both traffic and road conditions would dictate advance warning to motorists approaching such movements regardless of times of day, ether from in front or from the rear.

  5. I wonder why it is when I drive over the malahat the sign never gives the current road report, I have traveled over the Hat in dense fog, snow or been tied up in a accident cue and no information was displayed or was put up an hour later. Is no one watching the many weather cameras along the route?

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment.

      We do our very best to stay on top of changing weather and road conditions with 2 full time staff monitoring the 180+ webcams across the province 24/7 and receiving incoming road condition and event data from our ministry staff and contractors. Because our maintenance contractor and district staff provide us with some of our road condition information, there can be a short delay between the time an incident or condition happens and when it is reported on DriveBC (and on the Dynamic Message Signs). If you notice a discrepancy or highway issue during your travels, and you think it should be reported, we encourage you to connect with us and let us know:

      Thanks again!