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Citizens Information Service

Public Works

Speed Limit Setting

Speed limits on the highways of Manitoba, including in the City of Winnipeg, are set by The Highway Traffic Board of Manitoba which is appointed by the Provincial Government.

When a speed limit change on a City street has been requested or a speed limit is proposed on a newly constructed street, it is the practice of the Public Works Department to provide the Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works, being the City’s Traffic Authority, comprised of a Committee of elected officials appointed by Council, with an evaluation of such a request/proposal, including the results of a speed study on the street and a comparison of the collision rate thereon with other streets of similar characteristics, and an assessment of the traffic operating conditions on a newly constructed street. With such information, the Committee is better informed to decide whether the Public Works Department should be authorized to apply to The Highway Traffic Board of Manitoba for the requested speed limit change or for a proposed speed limit on a newly constructed street.

The Public Works Department’s recommendation to the Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works for speed limits is based on the measured 85th percentile speed of traffic on the street, being the speed at or below which 85% of motorists operate their vehicle, provided that the collision rate is within acceptable limits. Such a criterion recognizes that the majority of motorists operate their vehicle in a reasonable and prudent manner with due consideration for conditions encountered, including activity into and out of intersecting public streets and approaches, as well as the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists on or near the roadway. The methodology is described below.

Background Information on Setting Speed Limits

(Excerpt from “Speed Zoning Information A Case of Majority Rule (within the United States)”.  Institute of Transportation Engineers)

Generally, traffic laws that reflect the behaviour of the majority of motorists are found to be successful, while laws that arbitrarily restrict the majority of motorists encourage violations, lack public support and usually fail to bring about desirable changes in driving behaviour. This is particularly true when it comes to establishing speed limits.

Speed limits are based on several fundamental concepts deeply rooted within the system of government and law:

  1. driving behaviour is an extension of social attitude and the majority of drivers respond in a safe and reasonable manner as demonstrated by consistently favourable driving records;
  2. the normally careful and competent actions of a reasonable person should be considered appropriate;
  3. laws are established for the protection of the public and the regulation of unreasonable behaviour on the part of individuals; and
  4. laws cannot be effectively enforced without the consent and voluntary compliance of the public majority.

One important objective in setting a speed limit is to inform drivers of a reasonable and safe maximum speed under normal driving conditions. When less than ideal conditions exist, a driver must adjust vehicle speed accordingly as required by provisions of the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act.  

It is a long accepted North American practice to recommend and establish speed limits based on the 85th percentile speed, being the speed at or below which 85% of motorists travel, in conjunction with a detailed engineering analysis of other factors such as collision information. Circumstances such as curves on the road, visibility restrictions, pedestrian and parking activity, and adjacent land uses (e.g., schools, shopping centres, etc.) are factors that determine the speed at which the vast majority of motorists elect to operate their vehicle. A speed limit established on such a basis is also referred to as a “credible speed limit” in that the speed limit matches the image that is inspired by the roadway environment and the traffic operating circumstances encountered. Features of the driving environment that are relevant to a ”credible speed limit” include the roadway width, the number of lanes, lane lining and marking, the presence of adjacent buildings, as well as trees, utility poles and furniture in the boulevard. Long, straight, wide sections of roadways with a smooth surface in an open clear road environment tend to lend themselves to a higher operating speed than is the case where such features are not present.  

Establishing speed limits in this manner has proven to be effective in that it accommodates traffic in a safe and orderly way and enables the Police to focus their enforcement resources toward the 15% of drivers who operate at excessive speeds. Such a criterion recognizes that the majority of motorists operate their vehicle in a reasonable and prudent manner with due consideration for conditions encountered, including activity into and out of intersecting public streets and approaches as well as the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists on or near the roadway. By setting speed limits using the 85th percentile speed, the range of speeds is lessened, providing a more uniform flow of traffic. Studies have shown that:

  • more collisions occur when the speeds of vehicles are varied with extremely high or low speeds encountered [1];
  • setting speed limits lower than that considered reasonable to the majority of drivers encourages disrespect of speed limits in general;
  • posted speed limits which are set higher or lower than that dictated by roadway and traffic conditions are ignored by the majority of motorists; and that
  • when speed limits are raised or lowered, there is very little impact on motorists’ actual speeds.
    • 1“U.S. DOT Publication No. FHWA-RD-98-154”, 1998

Safe, “credible speed limits” can be expected to enhance motorists’ compliance to the speed limit, which in turn can result in a reduction in collisions than would otherwise be the case. If a speed limit is not credible, motorists will be inclined to elect to drive at a speed that they perceive to be realistic. If speed limits are perceived as being incredible too frequently, it will challenge the public’s trust in the speed limit system generally. A speed limit can be incredible because the speed limit is either perceived as being too low or as being too high.

Highway Traffic Board Approval

The Highway Traffic Board considers any application for a speed limit change at a public meeting, the place, date and time of which is advertised in the newspaper. The Board considers the evidence submitted by the applicant; which, in the case of The City of Winnipeg, is the Public Works Department, as well as any public submission either in person or in writing. The applicant is informed of the Board's decision in due course.

The methodology and the process that the Public Works Department follows as described above ensures that, to the greatest extent feasible, consistency is attained in establishing speed limits on our streets.


Last update: October 16, 2015