A pedestrian crosses on the hand at Robie Street. Once a new law is proclaimed, the fine for this offence will go from $180 to $697.50.
A pedestrian crosses on the hand at Robie Street. Once a new law is proclaimed, the fine for this offence will go from $180 to $697.50.

Back in December, Nova Scotia made national news with a tiny change to our Motor Vehicle Act that will hike fines for certain ticketable offences under the MVA, including a bunch for pedestrians, to $697.50.

I’ve been bewildered by this move since it first made headlines. Despite the far-reaching coverage, it’s been hard to get a complete picture of the impending changes, which will go into effect once the Liberals decide to proclaim their bill, any day now. So in the meantime, let’s take a look at what the Liberals did and why they did it.

The changes essentially amount to tinkering. The Liberals have merely upgraded the fine categories for 12 ticketable offences under the MVA. Doesn’t seem like much, except that it amounts to first offence ticket going from $180 or $410, all the way up to $697.50.

Two of these ticketable offences are directed at crossing guards not doing their jobs properly. Five more are driving offences, involving failing to yield to a pedestrian on flashing greens, and right-turns-on-red.

The last five are walking offences. The term “jaywalking” has been used as a catch-all to describe them, but let’s stick to exactly what the offences are, and how their fines will change:

  • Walking on a “don’t walk” light, which includes a flashing hand or countdown signal, going from $180 to $697.50.
  • Leaving the curb without activating the crosswalk light, going from $410 to $697.50.
  • Crossing outside of a crosswalk zone while failing to yield to traffic, going from $410 to $697.50.
  • Moving into the path of a vehicle that won’t have time to stop (this must be the “darting” that I often hear pedestrians are prone to do), going from $410 to $697.50.
  • Failing to proceed in a crosswalk at a walk light, going from $180 to $697.50.

(The final one is somewhat bewildering. It seems to be a ticketable offence to NOT cross at a walk light, but it must mean stopping mid-crossing.) You can read the full penalties chart here.

So that’s what legislators did, but why did they do it?

The desire to harmonize pedestrian and driver fines seems to be the main impetus behind this move by the Liberal government. In a statement, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Geoff MacLellan writes: “Making these fines consistent with each other helps reinforce that road safety is a shared responsibility.”

Beyond “shared,” MacLellan seems to believe the responsibility should be divvied up equally. As he further explains in his statement: “The main goal was to level the playing field between drivers and pedestrians, and send a message that we all have a role to play to keep ourselves and other road users safe.”

Geoff MacLellan, Nova Scotia Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal
Geoff MacLellan, Nova Scotia Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal

And that really seems to be it. MacLellan looked at the problem of pedestrians getting killed and injured and the thing that jumped out at him was that the “playing field” was not level. Presumably he looked at statistics, likely very similar to those released today by the Halifax police showing that out of the 208 pedestrian-vehicle collisions last year, only six tickets were issued to pedestrians, while 81 were issued to drivers.

Source: Halifax Regional Police Vehicle-Pedestrian Collisions report, Jan-Dec 2015
Source: Halifax Regional Police Vehicle-Pedestrian Collisions report, Jan-Dec 2015

He looked at statistics like that and decided the problem was pedestrians not shouldering their share of the responsibility. He noticed that drivers and pedestrians were being treated differently, and he decided to do something about it.

Unfortunately, he’s just wrong.

The idea that pedestrians and drivers equally share responsibility for safe streets is, well, absurd.

Pedestrians and drivers are different, by definition. One walks; the other operates a machine. One requires a licence by law; the other requires some basic gross motor skills. One is a relatively complex thing that we must study and practice to master (sometimes paying thousands of dollars to do so); the other is a natural developmental milestone that most of us passed at the onset of toddler-hood.

Pedestrians and drivers are different, and the risks and responsibilities they take on when they hit the streets are also different.

When a driver is distracted or takes a risk, they stand a chance of doing harm and damage to those around them. When a pedestrian is distracted or takes a risk, they generally only risk harm and damage to themselves. This is why we require a licence and insurance for driving a motor vehicle, and nothing for walking around.

Our minister of transportation seems to be ignoring or forgetting this. Walking in a city and driving in a city are radically different activities, by nature and in law.

Mysteriously, MacLellan and the Liberals have gone to a lot of trouble to defend some relatively dinky changes to the MVA under the misguided pretence that there is a playing field that needs levelling. There isn’t.

Drivers and pedestrians are treated differently by the law, and should continue to be treated differently, because they are different.

Coming up:

If you’re interested in the rules of the road in Nova Scotia, you will be interested in this project by the Halifax Cycling Coalition, It’s More Than Buses, Walk n Roll Halifax, and Bicycle Nova Scotia. It’s a draft of proposed changes to the Motor Vehicle Act, and the groups are hosting a discussion on January 21st at the Central Library to present their ideas and get some feedback.

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Of all the arguments which could have been made, “levelling the playing field” is probably the least convincing for me. I firmly believe that walking is a right and driving is a privilege. All this does is put more pedestrians on the defensive and more drivers in the mentality that they have a right to the road.

  2. Something’s missing. There are three variables: the pedestrian, the driver, and the environment. The environment includes the weather and the time-of-day, but mostly it includes the infrastructure. Most intersections in Halifax are the product of many years of repairs and ‘improvements’ with little thought to overall design for safety. Curb cuts, placement of signage, lighting and signals, painting, crowning, line-of-sight, proximity of bus stops, button location, drainage and a raft of subtle elements go into design for safety.

    As an example, those fan-shaped corner ramps make it nearly impossible to guess where a pedestrian is headed. Standing on the apex of the fan, the pedestrian gives no clue to drivers about their intentions. In the rest of the world, right-angled curb cuts let pedestrians send a sure message. “I’m going straight ahead. That-a-way” Another example is the perverse placement of bus stops exactly where they obstruct the view of busy crosswalks. All along Spring Garden, fourteen or fifteen foot buses stop, passengers get off, and go to the nearest crosswalk, where they are hidden from sight.

    Until HRM shoulders its share of the blame, nothing will change. HRM scrupulously avoids taking any responsibility. The Police take the most simple-minded view of a complex problem. Our traffic ‘engineers’ seem oblivious to the problem. Emptying the wallets of drivers and pedestrians is merely punishing the victims and perpetuating the problem.

  3. I venture to say that if a pedestrian keeps their eyes on any motor vehicle that is a threat to them when crossing a street, that the the likelihood that a pedestrian would put themselves in the path of a vehicle that would hit them is probably pretty low. Do not try to catch the eye of the driver, keep one’s eyes on the vehicles…. one cannot tell if the driver actually sees one; but one sure as heck should be able to tell it the vehicle will stop in time… “if in doubt, don’t step out”…catchy phrase, eh? If all pedestrians would adhere to it there would be less incidents… there are no accidents involving pedestrians and motor vehicles. Neither driver nor pedestrian inattention are acceptable reasons for these incidents.

      1. You are correct; but you know that solution is not possible; but pedestrians could ensure their own safety better and that is a fact. I do not trust a vehicle driver’s judgement or diligence more than my own when it comes to safety…. why should anyone?

        1. You don’t trust drivers judgement or diligence, so pedestrians should have to make up for the ineptitude of drivers by being as diligent as drivers ought to be?

          It sounds like pedestrians aren’t the problem here.

          1. No, what I am saying is that pedestrians have to stop assuming that they have, in fact, been seen… it is as simple as that. I do not think any vehicle operator is driving with the intention of running over a pedestrian…. at dusk or once it is dark or in inclement weather… it is easy to miss a pedestrian… next time you are out, look at all the dark coloured clothes everyone likes to wear… pedestrians are not brightly shining neon lights, they often appear to be shadows…. that stretch of road by the skating oval is an incident waiting to happen. Neither drivers nor pedestrians are totally at fault and certainly neither are they blameless… if they both would be as diligent as possible, there would be no incidents.

  4. Following on the recent comments of Tony Walsh and others, I’d like to try reframing the issue, speaking as a pedestrian since age 2, cyclist since age 6, licensed driver since age 16 (retested only once since 1958), and still using all three modes on the streets and roads of Nova Scotia.

    It’s time to update and upgrade the MVA. I’d rename it the People and Public Pavements and Pathways Act (PPPPA or 4PA, briefly) and substantially revise it. Here’s my sketch.

    There’d be a new preamble and first sections making clear that cars and trucks and the interests and habits of their drivers are no longer the dominent concern of laws governing the use of these public goods.

    The first sections of the 4P Act would set out some basic clearly stated and revised understandings
    • of ethics (i.e., vulnerability trumps horsepower; civility matters; … )
    • safety and security of people comes first, then their personal goods,
    • the laws of physics apply to rules and penalties.
    • best practices re cognition, perception, psychology of everyday transactions, …
    Then, a requirment all drivers
    • attend drivers’ schools for instruction and recertification in driving under the new 4P Act
    • be tested on their knowledge and driving skills
    • be retested periodically (every ____ years).

    Following this, most sections of the current MVA would be included.
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    Anyone care to join me in trying to creating a draft People and Public Pavements and Pathways Act for Nova Scotia?

  5. I don’t care how “wrong” pedestrians are, nor how “right” drivers are, when the 3000 lb car hits the 200 lb pedestrian it is likely that they are getting hurt… or dead. By increasing the fines on pedestrians, in order to “level the playing field”, the provincial government disregards the forces involved and ignores one of the underlying problems: folks are driving too fast for the conditions. In 50 km zones on dry days you had better be doing 60+ or you’ll have someone riding your rear bumper. The speeding is just as bad on wet / snowy days when stopping distances are greater. And enforcement appears to be limited to a few common speed traps. Perhaps a few mobile speed signs rotated through the worst intersections would make a difference in the short term. (Tim previously pointed out some engineering changes that are needed to make a number of intersections safer.)

    After all, if these were workplace hazardous occurrences, the solutions (from http://www.ihsa.ca/pdfs/safety_groups/Hazard_Prevention_Guide_June2011.pdf), would be:
    (a) the elimination of the hazard, including by way of engineering controls which
    may involve mechanical aids, equipment design or redesign that take into account
    the physical attributes of the employee;
    (b) the reduction of the hazard, including isolating it;
    (c) the provision of personal protective equipment, clothing, devices or materials; and
    (d) administrative procedures such as the management of hazard exposure and
    recovery periods and the management of work patterns and method

    This government’s solution is to skip right to administrative procedures (increasing fines). Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

  6. Well, frankly I’m not against that fine, because seemingly the physics of a car-pedestrian interaction doesn’t seem to be enough alone to moderate pedestrian behaviour here. The “least aware of surroundings” pedestrians I’ve ever encountered live and walk in Halifax, and I’ve lived, and driven, across an awful lot of Canada. In the last two weeks alone I’ve applied my brakes sharply to avoid hitting someone because of 3 of those 5 situations described above, and I’ve seen the other two happen.

    When I was young I was taught to only cross the road after checking in all directions AND making sure I had made eye contact with any nearby drivers. Apparently parents in Halifax didn’t pass that message on to their kids…it’s the only explanation I’ve got for the poor pedestrian behaviour I often see. Look, if you’re a “good pedestrian” why get outraged by the size of the fine??….it’s not something that will be levied against you anyways is it??

    As to the “physics”….back of the envelope calculations (based on info here: http://www.visualexpert.com/Resources/reactiontime.html which I converted to metric) suggest that an “average” stop time after awareness of a stimuli such as a pedestrian if traveling at 50km/h in ideal light, weather etc conditions is ~48m. Forty-eight meters. I have people step in front of me with out warning at considerably less distances than that a couple of times a week. It’s MORE than 48m if the pedestrian is less visible (i.e., dark clothes), it’s dark outside, there’s poor weather, the driver is older, etc etc. Forty-eight meters is about half the length of a football field…..even the “best” response time (half the average) still gives 25m stopping distance…..and I see pedestrians without warning step into the road at less than that distance every week. THIS suggests that even the “most careful” young driver driving at the speed limit with good tires in good lighting in good weather conditions *still* might hit someone who steps into the road without warning when a car is too close…..and that applies at corners too where the car is slower but the distances are less.

    Knowing that most drivers are NOT that guy, most cars are not that car, most lighting is NOT that lighting, most weather is NOT that “ideal” I’m a pretty darned “careful” pedestrian when I cross roads in Halifax…..I think an awful lot of pedestrians are not that cautious — seemingly they believe that their “right” to cross the road in any fashion they choose outweighs the physics of car movement. It doesn’t. Maybe the size of the fines will get some of them paying better attention.

  7. How many resources in budget and infrastructure is devoted to cars (hint: BILLIONS). How much to pedestrians (hint: next to nothing)?

    Now there is a playing field that needs to be leveled.

    1. I know that sidewalk snow removal in Hfx is a whole separate issue. And there’s a history and a recent change attached to that.

      But this idea of who gets the resources burns my ass.

      I walk to work every day. In Truro, where I live, the streets are plowed by 6 almost every morning it snows. The sidewalks don’t get done till noon or later. The result is that I have to walk in the street. And take my life in my hands. And then put up with entitled car drivers honking and cursing me.

      The town would never dream of leaving the streets unplowed. I guess because pedestrians don’t have loud horns we can blow.

      1. One unfortunate side effect of Canada’s demographic and economic history is that esablished, older people have a disproportionate amount of political power. Even as the end of cheap oil makes the suburbs impossible to sustain, the voting blocs that live there will ensure that we pour as much resources as physically possible into maintaining that crap.

  8. Nothing to argue with here, but I have been mystified since the debate began in earnest a couple of years ago, by the fact that nobody seems to have recognized the obvious: If there are laws on the books and they are not enforced, most people will ignore them. Let me share one example: A couple of years ago the Bridge Commission noticed that, despite the 50km signs, drivers regularly approached the Mackay Bridge toll booths driving 70 or even 80 km per hour, until they got within about 100 meters of the tolls. So they put up flashing speed signs and then randomly used radar. After a month or two of issuing tickets, the Commission realized their goal to reduce speeding by almost 100%. I haven’t seen a radar gun in at least a year, but drivers still slow down on the approaches to the bridge.

    Believe it or not, there are drivers out there who do not realize that you’re supposed to come to a full stop before turning right on red or before proceeding through a stop sign and there are many more who just ignore the law. These are both activities that pose a grave risk to pedestrians. When a driver rolls through a red to turn right, they are looking left to make sure there is not a vehicle that might hit them. Often if they are turning left on a green light they will speed through to beat an oncoming vehicle, without looking for a pedestrian who may (legally or illegally) be in the crosswalk. The latter scenario is how, I believe, a woman in a motorized scooter was killed at the corner of Thistle and Victoria Road.

    Further, most drivers do not know that every intersection – marked or unmarked – is legally a crosswalk. By the way, the best way to not get the ROW as a pedestrian is to make eye contact with a driver at a crosswalk, because they know you will not risk life and limb to cross in front of them. Absurd but true.

    Until HRP is instructed to regularly enforce traffic laws pertaining to red lights, stop signs and crosswalks, nothing will change. If pedestrians are continually vilified for trying to cross the road, drivers will continue to believe they have the green light – even when they don’t. However, if Ace the aggressive driver gets to the office complaining that, “I got a
    $ 700 ticket for turning right on red and I didn’t even hit one of those dumb-ass pedestrians”, then maybe Ace and everyone within ear-shot might actually obey the law and stop before turning on red. Using the occasional decoy to try and cross at an unmarked crosswalk might also help motorists to obey the law. As the Bridge Commission example shows, you don’t have to enforce the law everywhere everyday, you just have to send the message that the law will be enforced whether you kill or injure someone or not.

    Finally, some re-education is in order for the police and the good folks running the traffic authority. They need to understand that decisions must be made with protection of pedestrians in mind. Drivers will always survive unscathed in a collision between a pedestrian and a vehicle. A pedestrian will not. I will never forget the comment from one of the attending police officers at the scene of the death of the poor scooter driver who was killed at Thistle and Victoria. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially, he said that he felt badly for the driver who killed that woman, after all, he was pretty shaken up. Does anyone else think that we might have an empathy deficit when it comes to pedestrians?

    1. Agree great article. Just on the eye contact with drivers–something I try to do but this has resulted in abuse from drivers swearing at me for waiting so long before crossing –not trusting they are going to stop. Swearing or gesturing at me even with my 5 year old. I gaffaw at the mention of Maritimer kindness and the myth that they stop. My most recent trip to Toronto proved otherwise when not one car passed by me whenever I pushed the button–increasingly rare in Halifax. The legislative changes send the wrong message to drivers.

  9. Freeman Dryden is WRONG WRONG WRONG. This column is not a rant against motorists. It’s a common sense position.

    For an analogy, on navigable waters, the rule of thumb is that the bigger the engine and the more maneuverability a boat has, the more it has to give way to smaller, less maneuverable vessels.the faster and more motorized a boat is, the greater its responsibility to yield. Motorboats yield to sailboats that yield to canoes and kayaks that yield to swimmers.

    I absolutely agree that pedestrians must be aware of their surroundings and take responsibility for their own safety. Better public awareness and signage are the way to change behaviour not fines that are so ridiculous they’ll never be levied. I like the suggestion that pedestrians be strongly encouraged to raise their arm before crossing & that they always Stop, Look & Listen. Drivers must also be aware of their surroundings – their errors affect others more profoundly as the column points out.

    Like many Haligonians, I am both a driver and a pedestrian. I’m also a cyclist. The new fines for pedestrians are an embarrassment that doesn’t meet any test of reasonableness and won’t fix the problem.

  10. A very good assessment of this totally bizarre move by the Liberals.

    Unfortunately no NS politician will ever take heed of the numerous groups and individuals rightly pointing out that these new fines are completely ridiculous. Most NS politicians take criticism of their actions as a personal insult and will push the legislation forward regardless, because they can’t be wrong.

  11. Today’s Anti-Motorist RANT is what is WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! Being able to place one foot in front of the other without falling down does NOT qualify ANY «pedestrian» to mindlessly and precipitously throw her body into a busy, congested street. And, the assertion that they do damage only to themselves is entirely UNTRUE. Pedestrians who throw themselves in front of motor vehicles often cause the motorist to engage in panic emergency maneuvers which cause sometimes very expansive damage to the vehicle, and risk of heart-attack for the driver.

    It is PRECISELY a situation of EQUAL responsibility. In fact is is a helluva lot easier for a pedestrian to «stop on a dime» that for a 40,000 LB GVW cement mixer!

    The endless list of pedestrian/motor vehicle collisions is sad testimony NOT JUST to «entitled» and brain-dead MOTORISTS but to just as many equally brain-dead and KAMIKAZE pedestrians one can witness practising their stupidities on busy streets in the HRM every day.

    1. Surely you jest? How is it equal responsibility when 81 does not equal 6. You missed the point. Or math class.

    2. Wow, Mr Dryden, if a driver is likely to have a heart attack after hitting the brakes then perhaps he or she should get out of the car and consult a health care professional. Is there evidence of the relationship between driver heart attacks and pedestrian malfeance?