Work zones are road sections where road construction or maintenance activities take place. These work zones usually have different alignment and furniture than the original road and thus temporary lower speeds are adopted at these locations. However, drivers usually face difficulty in adopting the new speed limit and maneuvering safely due to the change in alignment. Therefore, work zones are commonly considered as hazardous locations with higher crash rates and severities as reported in the literature. This study aims to investigate the effectiveness of a variable message signs (VMSs) based system for work zone advance warning area. The proposed system aims at enhancing driver adaptation of the reduced speed limit, encourage early lane changing maneuvers and improve the cooperative driving behavior in the pre-work zone road section. The study was conducted using a driving simulator at the College of Engineering of Qatar University. Seventy volunteers holding a valid Qatari passenger car driving license participated in this study. In the simulator experiment, we have two scenarios (control and treatment). The control scenario was designed based on the Qatar Work Zone Traffic Management Guide (QWZTMG), where the length of the advance warning area is 1000 m. Meanwhile, the treatment scenario contains six newly designed variable message signs where two of them were animation-based. The VMSs were placed at the same locations of the static signs in the control scenario. Both scenarios were tested for two situations. In the first situation, the participants were asked to drive on the left lane while in the second situation, they were instructed to drive on the second lane. The study results showed that the proposed system was effective in motivating drivers to reduce their traveling speed in advance. Compared to the control scenario, drivers’ mean speed was significantly 6.3 and 11.1 kph lower in the VMS scenario in the first and second situations, respectively. Furthermore, the VMS scenario encouraged early lane changing maneuvers. In the VMS scenario, drivers changed their lanes in advance by 150 m compared to the control scenario. In addition, the proposed system was effective in motivating drivers to keep larger headways with the frontal merging vehicle. Taking into account the results from this study, we recommend the proposed VMS based system as a potentially effective treatment to improve traffic safety at work zones.