Nova Scotia

Drivers should be retested, family says after Halifax woman killed in crosswalk

The family of a Halifax woman who died after being struck in a crosswalk says Nova Scotia should retest drivers periodically to ensure they're still able to drive safely.

'I think a good outcome for this would be to revisit, as a province, the concept of retesting'

The driver who struck Dawn Nichols was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, a traffic offence that carries the same roughly $700 fine if you run over someone's foot, or kill them. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Before she died in a February traffic accident in Halifax, Dawn Nichols's family talked to her about giving up driving because she'd been in a fender bender.

"We made a family decision that she really shouldn't drive anymore. She wasn't safe to herself or safe to her community," said her daughter, Nikki Robar.

So the 73-year-old stopped driving and started figuring out the bus routes. Her son, Duane Robar, moved home to help her. On Feb. 18, Nichols went to the grocery store. At 1:20 p.m., she activated the crosswalk lights at Clayton Park Drive and Dunbrack Street and walked across the four-lane road.

The first three drivers stopped. The fourth, an 83-year-old man, struck Nichols in the crosswalk and continued down the road before stopping and returning to the accident. Police later said he hadn't touched his brakes before he hit Nichols.

One woman got out of her car and laid on the ground with Nichols as they waited for paramedics. "We feel a lot of comfort that somebody was willing to do that for her," Nikki Robar told CBC's Mainstreet on Wednesday.

Charge laid

Their mother died in hospital shortly after the accident.

Police told them the driver had not been drinking, nor was he speeding. He simply didn't see their mother, despite her bright purple coat and boots. He was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, a traffic offence that carries the same roughly $700 fine if you run over someone's foot, or kill them.

The Robars say it's unlikely that increasing the punishment would deter people in cases where it's an accident, but they do think such accidents can be prevented.

"I think a good outcome for this would be to revisit, as a province, the concept of retesting at certain triggering points: whether that be age, infirmity or accident," Nikki Robar said.

She and her brother had been reluctant to speak publicly, but a similar accident in Cole Harbour earlier this month prompted them to talk.

'Something needs to change'

The Robars said families might be reluctant to have that talk with a family member who should no longer drive, as that will likely shift the burden to the family. A family doctor could also talk to the driver, but that's assuming they have a family doctor and see them often enough for the issue to come up.

They'd like to see more support programs targeting the transportation issue, which might make it easier for people to stop driving. The Robars will write to lawmakers to urge them to change testing laws. In Nova Scotia, a driver can pass their test as a teenager and drive for decades without ever again proving their capabilities.

"Something needs to change," she said.

Civil action

They've started a civil action against the driver. Nikki Robar said any reward would likely be small because her mother lived on a pension and had no dependents.

"If you injured or killed a person who had dependents or a source of income that was then lost, that's a very big claim," she said. "It's an expensive mistake. But our mother is not an expensive mistake."

That hides her true value as a mother, grandmother and community member, her children said.

"She had a lot of deep feelings — some of which we understood, some of which we didn't. She was fiercely independent," her son said.

"Most people remember her by the beautiful things she created, in terms of music and crafts," her daughter added. "She left us at a loss emotionally; she left our sons without a grandmother."

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With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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