The control algorithm used for deciding on the speed limit in variable speed limit systems is crucial for the performance of the systems. The algorithm is designed to fulfil the purpose of the variable speed limit system, which can be one or several of the following aspects: increasing safety, increasing efficiency and decreasing environmental impacts. Today, many of the control algorithms used in practice are based on fixed thresholds in speed and/or flow. Therefore, they are not necessarily reflecting the current traffic conditions. Control algorithms with a greater level of complexity can be found in the literature. In this paper, four existing control algorithms are investigated to conclude on important characteristics affecting the performance of the variable speed limit system. The purpose of the variable speed limit system and, consequently, the design of the control algorithm differ. Requirements of the investigated control algorithms are that they should be easy to interpret and the execution time should be short. The algorithms are evaluated through microscopic traffic simulation. Performance indicators related to traffic safety, traffic efficiency and environmental impacts are presented. The results show that the characteristics of the variable speed limit system and the design of the control algorithm will have effect on the resulting traffic performance, given that the drivers comply with the variable speed limits. Moreover, the time needed to trigger the system, the duration and the size of speed limit reductions, and the location of the congestion are factors of importance for the performance of variable speed limit systems.