Construction zone traffic violations: Navigating BC’s Cone Zone
The summer construction season is here and that means it’s the prime time for roadwork and construction all around BC. Whether you’re planning a staycation or taking a nice drive up to the family cabin, you are more likely to encounter roadwork around a construction zone or two during these few months.
Navigating through construction zones is a tricky thing. There are all sorts of additional rules drivers must obey, the least of which is to slow down. The provincial government, however, has not made a consistent rule on just how much you have to slow down. There are also all sorts of ways construction crews may alert you to slow down, and even though these ways aren’t actually listed in the Motor Vehicle Act, it’s up to you as the driver to know what’s what.
What exactly is a construction zone?
Generally, construction zones will be clearly marked by a sign at the beginning of the zone and a sign at the end of the zone, with the marked speed limit for that section listed on the first sign. The Motor Vehicle Act primarily relies on three sections to define these areas.
s. 138 Work in progress: On a highway where new construction, reconstruction, widening, repair, marking or other work is being carried out, traffic control devices must be erected indicating that persons or equipment are working on the highway.
s. 139 Erection of new sign: On a highway where new construction, widening, repair, marking or other work is being carried out, traffic control devices must be erected to limit the rate of speed of vehicles or to restrict the manner in which vehicles are to proceed on the highway.
s. 140 Obedience to speed signs: Where traffic control devices as indicated in section 138 or 139 are erected or placed on the highway, a person must not drive or operate a vehicle at a greater rate of speed than, or in a manner different from, that indicated on the signs.
So are construction zones always marked by signage and special speed limits?
At first glance, the law seems to suggest to the driver that, as long as you follow the signs, you’ll be OK. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. BC also has a relatively recent “slow down, move over” addition to the Motor Vehicle Act that requires drivers to slow down and give additional space to road or construction crews.
Division 47 in the MVA states that, when near a road crew or official vehicle, drivers must slow to:
a) 70 km/h, if signs on the highway limit the rate of speed to 80 km/h or more;
b) 40 km/h, if signs on the highway limit the rate of speed to less than 80 km/h
c) the rate of speed indicated on the signs, if signs on the highway limit the rate of speed to less than 40 km/h
Though crews working in construction zones are supposed to lay out clear signage, the “slow down, move over” legislation appears to place the responsibility of recognizing a construction zone to the driver. It simply states if authorized vehicles, which include road crews, are stopped and displaying “flashes of red, blue, white or amber light” you must slow down to the listed speeds.
OK. I know what a construction zone is. How fast can I go?
As Division 47 in the Motor Vehicle Act suggests, if there are no signs, then it depends on what the regular speed limit on that stretch of road is. If the regular speed limit is 80 km/h or higher, slow to 70 km/h. If the regular speed limit is lower than 80 km/h, you must slow to 40 km/h. Any regular speed limit 40 km/h or under remains the same speed limit, unless a temporary traffic sign suggests a slower speed.
However, for construction zones that are properly marked by signage, there is no standard speed limit found in the Motor Vehicle Act. Instead, the signs are supposed to dictate to drivers precisely how fast they can travel by the construction zone. While not part of the Motor Vehicle Act itself, the courts have in the past relied on the Ministry of Transportation’s Traffic Control Manual for Work on Roadways in its construction-zone-related decisions.
This workbook’s section on speed in construction zones suggests that each individual construction zone’s speed limit is up to whatever authority is responsible for that part of the road. Generally, this means it’s up to the city, provincial government, or federal government that oversees that part of road to decide.
There are a few signs for this, some of them accompanied by a number showing the posted speed limit. One of them states “Maximum Speed.” Another states “Maximum Speed Ahead” to provide drivers with a bit of warning before they hit the brakes. There’s a sign that warns drivers of a $196 fine for speeding in work zones, and there are three signs that mark the end of a work zone, and that drivers can resume regular traffic speed.
So I’ll be clearly told when I can speed up again after a construction zone?
If the people who put up construction zone speed limit signs followed all their guidelines, maybe this would be true. But as one driver found out the hard way, there are times when there is no clear sign indicating when the construction zone ends.
In this case, the driver had passed two signs indicating a construction zone and there was no sign indicating when that construction zone ended. It just so happened that there were no road crews working that day, as it was a Sunday, but nevertheless the driver was still ticketed for speeding in a construction zone.
The case went all the way to the BC Court of Appeal, where it was upheld that in cases where there are no signs indicating the end of a construction zone, the driver must still use reason to determine whether they are still within the zone. The court did not specify what the driver ought to be looking for, but it may be safe to say, if there are tools, vehicles, cones or other markings indicating a driver may still be in a work zone, the area probably remains under the construction zone speed limit.
This is what the judge said at trial:
“…I can find no requirement in the Motor Vehicle Act that a construction area be actually marked by signs indicating a beginning and an end to the construction area. Presumably at the end of the construction area speed can be resumed to the normal posted limit.
No doubt this may give rise at some point to an argument as to where the end actually was. Nevertheless I find that the only requirement is that there be a speed sign actually posted warning of the reduced speed before the accused actually enters the construction zone.”
What should I do if I receive a ticket for speeding in a construction zone?
The penalties for speeding in a construction zone can be severe. For example, just failing to slow down for road crews in an otherwise unmarked construction zone is a $173 fine, under division 47 of the Motor Vehicle Act. Now, if you were completely unaware that the speed limit suddenly dropped to 40 km/h, you might actually receive an additional ticket for excessive speeding if you were going 80 km/h.
In areas marked by construction signs, the penalties are a bit more clear. If you exceed the marked construction zone speed limit by 20 km/h or less, the ticket amount is $196. If you exceed the construction zone limit by up to 40 km/h, the ticket amount is $253. Each of the construction zone penalties come with three Driver Penalty Points.
The excessive speeding offence kicks in at 40 km/h over the limit, and brings the ticket amount up to $368 and also an additional three Driver Penalty Points. Just a few of these tickets and points, and your driving privileges could easily be suspended by RoadSafetyBC.
The only way around this if you’ve received a speeding ticket in a construction zone is to dispute. Dispute the tickets early. Don’t let these tickets become a part of your permanent record, branding you to RoadSafetyBC as a driver who speeds. Any previous uncontested tickets can be accessed by RoadSafetyBC, even years later, and may impact whether or not you’ll can continue to drive. Call an experienced BC Driving Lawyer before it’s too late. We can help make things right.