Effectiveness of Changeable Message Signs in Controlling Vehicle Speeds in Work Zones

Report No: 95-R4

Published in 1994

About the report:

Work zone speeds have customarily been regulated by standard regulatory or advisory speed signs. However, most drivers do not slow down in response to these static speed control measures. The changeable message sign (CMS) with radar unit has dynamic capabilities which may be more effective in altering driver behavior. The radar, attached directly to the CMS, determines the actual speed of individual vehicles in the traffic stream. Upon detecting a speed higher than a preset threshold limit, the CMS can display a personalized warning message. This study evaluated the effectiveness of the CMS with radar unit in reducing work zone speeds. Four CMS messages designed to warn drivers that their speed exceeded the maximum safe speed were tested at seven work zones on two interstate highways in Virginia. Speed and volume data for the whole population traveling through the work zone were collected with automatic traffic counters. To assess the effect of CMS on high-speed drivers in particular, vehicles that triggered the radar-activated display were videotaped as they passed through the work zone. Using the data obtained from the traffic counters and videotapes, speed characteristics were determined at the beginning, middle, and end of the work zone. These characteristics were computed for the whole population and for high-speed vehicles separately. Statistical tests were then conducted using these speed characteristics to determine whether significant reductions in speed accompanied the use of CMS. Odds ratios were first calculated to compare the odds for speeding when using CMS with the odds for speeding when using the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) signing only. These odds ratios indicated that CMS effectively reduced the number of vehicles speeding by any amount, by 5 mph or more, and by 10 mph or more in the work zone. When analysis of variance was used to compare speeds when using the CMS with speeds when using MUTCD signing only, all of the speed characteristics average speeds, 85th percentile speeds, speed variance, and the percentage of vehicles speeding by any amount, by 5 mph or more, and by 10 mph or more were reduced with any of the four CMS messages. In some cases, these reductions were not significant at o• 0.05. The messages were rated according to their level of effectiveness in the following order: [1] YOU ARE SPEEDING SLOW DOWN, [2] HIGH SPEED SLOW DOWN, [3] REDUCE SPEED IN WORK ZONE, and [4] EXCESSIVE SPEED SLOW DOWN. Finally, t tests were conducted using the speed data obtained for the high-speed vehicles, and at a significance level of ct 0.05, all of the messages were effective in significantly reducing the average speeds of those vehicles traveling 59 mph or faster in a 55-mph work zone when compared to MUTCD signing only.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Surbhi T. Patel, Nicholas J. Garber, Ph.D.

Last updated: December 18, 2023

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