Low Posted Speed Limit Study 

REPORT & RECOMMENDATION 

TO THE 

DEPUTY MINISTER’S STEERING COMMITTEE ON ROAD SAFETY 

 

ISSUE 

 

In the summer of 2012, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) received a request to 

approve the posting of a speed limit lower than 50km/h on a street in a residential area. 

 

It is TIR’s practice to not post or permit municipalities to post speed limits below 50km/h. This 

has been a long standing practice and was supported by recommendations from a 2003 study 

which found posting speed limits lower than 50km/h did not result in lower travel speeds. 

 

However, TIR continues to get requests to set speed limits lower than 50 km/h. Given these 

requests and that the previous study was conducted a decade ago, TIR believed that this would 

be an opportune time to revisit this issue to determine if there is any new evidence with respect 

to the effectiveness of posted speed limits that are less than 50 km/h. 

 

BACKGROUND 

 

The Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) is the governing piece of legislation with respect to speed limits 

on Nova Scotia Highways. It currently specifies that where a highway does not have a posted 

speed limit, the maximum speed on the highway is 80km/h, except where the highway is within a 

business or residence district, in which case the maximum speed is 50km/h. 

 

The MVA also permits the Minister or a Traffic Authority, with the approval of the Provincial 

Traffic Authority (PTA), to fix maximum rates of speed as they see fit. It has long been TIR’s 

position that the Minister or PTA approve only maximum speed limits between 50km/h and 

110km/h. 

 

At this time, other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world have implemented lower posted 

and/or statutory speed limits with the goal of lowering the number and severity of collisions 

between vehicles and vulnerable road users as well as making communities more “liveable”. In 

order to make an informed decision with respect to the applicability of speed limits less than 

50km/h, TIR moved forward to have a new study completed. 

 

In conjunction with the Road Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC), TIR, and a representative 

from the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), a Request For Proposal (RFP) was issued to 

three consulting firms for a study in order to determine if posted speed limits below 50km/h 

should be considered and if so, to determine best implementation practices. Dillon Consulting 

was awarded the contract and began work in March of 2013. 

 

A steering committee comprised of volunteers from RSAC, TIR and HRM was created to 

oversee the work of the Consultant. Throughout the process, updates were provided to RSAC, 

the former Minister of TIR (Maurice Smith), the Deputy Minister of TIR, Paul LaFleche, as well as to the citizen who initiated the request for the study. 

 

The study looked at the following components around posting speed limits: the physical 

environment, the issue of safety versus security, posting of a lower speed limit sign to result in a 

lower travel speed, along with a review of current literature, research, and guidelines. 

Additionally, a survey of Canadian municipalities and their approach to setting speed limits was 

conducted, and detailed analysis of five Canadian municipalities (Montreal, Edmonton, Stratford 

(PE), Ottawa, Winnipeg) were reviewed to understand their experiences with posting speed 

limits lower than 50km/h. 

 

RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS 

 

Based on the research and analysis, four key findings were highlighted in the study: 

 

1. Posting of speed limit signs alone will not reduce vehicle operating speed. Only the 

physical environment will have a marked effect on the speeds that drivers choose to 

drive. 

2. Speed limits set too low for the physical characteristic of the road can produce an 

environment where users feel more secure, when they are, in actuality, no safer than at 

the previously posted speed. Education on the differences between safety and security is 

critical to increasing safety for all road users. 

3. Consistent use of engineering practices backed by national and international research, 

such as Transportation Association of Canada’s (TAC) Canadian Guidelines for 

Establishing Posted Speed Limits, in combination with reasoned engineering judgment 

will result in a safer roadway environment (i.e. design considerations). 

4. Road safety is a shared responsibility. 

 

Along with the above key findings, a step by step warrant procedure was presented to be used to 

evaluate requests to lower the speed limit below 50km/h. Individual traffic authorities would 

hold the responsibility for performing this evaluation and determining if a lower speed limit 

should be set on a street within their jurisdiction. RSAC is concerned that at this time, not all 

Traffic Authorities within the province would have the necessary resources, skill set or expertise 

to administer all phases of the warrant procedure. 

 

Examples of jurisdictions that had implemented speed limits lower than 50km/h were provided 

in the report. However, there was no concrete evidence provided that posting a speed limit lower 

than 50km/h would lead to a reduction of travel speeds. This, combined with a lack of outcome 

and impact evaluation from jurisdictions who have implemented speed limits lower than 50km/h 

gave RSAC cause for concern. In contrast though, it was noted that TAC currently has set out 

guidelines for establishing posted speed limits as low as 40 km/h, provided the physical features 

of the roadway meet certain criteria. 

 

Overall, the report provides minimal evidence that supports the recommendation to allow lower 

posted speed limits as a method of reducing travel speed and collisions. The research and 

evidence provided within the report led RSAC to the following conclusions: 

 1. Physical characteristics and road design are key factors which influence travel speed. 

2. Signage alone does not lead to compliance or behavior change. 

3. Education and enforcement are required to support and promote compliance. 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS 

 

The Low Posted Speed Limit Study recommends that the province allow posted speed limits 

lower than 50km/h on its highways, but only if adherence is given to sound engineering, 

education, and enforcement. RSAC does not fully endorse the recommendation due to the lack 

of definitive supporting evidence offered within the report. 

 

Therefore, RSAC recommends: 

 

To further study the issue by means of a pilot project which would evaluate several 

trial sections posted at 40km/h to determine the effectiveness of lower speed limits 

on lowering 85th percentile travel speeds. The pilot project would also help evaluate the 

warrant system suggested in the report for determining what road sections would be 

suitable candidates for lower speed limits. 

 

The above two recommendations will allow RSAC to collect data within a Nova Scotia context 

in order to provide the province with evidence based research to be used to inform decisions 

around lowering posted speed limits below 50km/h. 

 

RSAC is in a position to take the lead on the pilot project in partnership with engineering experts 

within TIR. It is also recommended that a representative from the municipal level be engaged 

throughout the process. Any and all resources and expertise required to begin the process of 

developing the above pilot projects can be found at the RSAC table or within TIR. It is expected 

that a pilot project evaluation would take one to two years to complete.