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Variable message sign

A Variable (or changeable or electronic or dynamic) message sign (often abbreviated VMS or CMS) is an electronic sign often used on roadways to give travelers information about special events. They warn of congestion, accidents, incidents, roadwork zones or speed limits on a specific highway segment. They may also ask vehicles to take alternative routes, limit travel speed, warn of duration and location of the incidents or just inform of the traffic conditions. A complete message on a panel generally includes a problem statement indicating incident, roadwork, stalled vehicle etc; a location statement indicating where the incident is located; an effect statement indicating lane closure, delay, etc and an action statement giving suggestion what to do traffic conditions ahead. These signs are also used for amber alert messages.

VMS were deployed at least as early as the 1960s. The current VMS system are largely deployed on freeways or trunk highways.

Typical messages (such as those stipulated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation) provide the following information: (1) crashes including vehicle spin-out or rollover; (2) stall affecting normal flow in a lane or on shoulders; (3) non-recurring congestion, residual effect of cleared crash; (4) entire road closure; (5) downstream exit ramp closure; (6) debris on roadway; (7) vehicle fire; (8) short-term maintenance or construction lasting less than 3 days; (9) pavement failure alert.

The information comes from a variety of traffic monitoring and surveillance systems. It is expected that by providing real-time information on special events on the oncoming road, VMS can improve vehicles’ route selection, reduce travel time, mitigate the severity and duration of incidents and improve the performance of the transportation network.