Nova Scotia's century-old traffic safety laws to get upgrade
Bicyclists say vulnerable road users need changes to 'really problematic' act
Nova Scotia's Transportation Department is planning to replace the province's century-old Motor Vehicle Act.
The department says it will replace the current law with a new Traffic Safety Act that will address things like distracted driving, speed limits and bicycling.
That's welcome news for bicyclists, who are in an unusual position; sometimes the current act treats them as the equivalent of motor vehicles, and sometimes it does not.
"We couldn't come out and say in a blanket statement that a bicycle is to be considered as a motor vehicle at all times, because it doesn't act the same way," said Paul Arsenault, the director of special projects for the department.
Arsenault is tasked with modernizing the current act and drafting the new Traffic Safety Act. He compares the current act to a house built randomly without a plan, and says bicycles are one example of gaps in the legislation.
"There are places within the motor vehicle act that don't mention cyclists," he says. "They might say pedestrians and they might say motor vehicles, but the cyclist has been omitted from that. That's exactly what happened in the recent case."
Recently, cyclist Kyle MacKay came forward to the media to share his story of being struck by a car last fall, but being unable to pursue his case in court.
He says police charged the driver with "failing to yield to a vehicle in an intersection," but the Crown dropped the charges after determining there was no possibility of pursuing the charges since the act does not define a bicycle as a vehicle.
MacKay said he worried that could leave the impression that cyclists are "fair game" to be struck by cars.
Arsenault said a case like MacKay's illustrates how confusing the current act can be for enforcing the law.
Kelsey Lane of the Halifax Cycling Coalition says her group has long been aware there are gaps in the act.
"The current act is really problematic," she said. "It's a very, very old act and the way it was written, it was written for the favour of people who drive cars."
Lane's organization is one of roughly 50 interest groups who have been giving feedback to the Transportation Department. She says the act needs to give more recognition to people who don't drive.
"So, recognizing that people who walk, people who bike, people who use a mobility device are more vulnerable than somebody in a vehicle," she said.
Lane said her group is also in favour of measures like reducing speed limits and adding "dooring" as an offence.
The department is asking for public feedback until June 8, and expects the legislation to be ready in time to be introduced at the fall 2018 sitting of the legislature. However, Arsenault says it will take longer to revise all the relevant regulations, so he expects it to be 18 to 24 months before the entire process is complete.
Ben Buckwold, the director of Bicycle Nova Scotia, says his group has been tracking voluntary reports of cycling collisions since September 2016. In that time, the group has received 29 reports of bicycles being hit by cars. Buckwold wonders how police will enforce the Motor Vehicle Act if bicycles are omitted from certain sections.
"I understand that the legislative process takes time, but it's a concern to be thinking that we have our enforcement officers who are going to be out there patrolling the streets over the summer. We're wondering what kind of message this sends to them," he said.
"Perhaps we recognize that legislation needs to change, but this seems to be sending a strange message out to law enforcement. What are they to do in the intervening period?"
Buckwold said the omission of bicycles works against the push to get people to turn to more active forms of transportation.
Arsenault said the department felt it was better to take more time to change the entire act than to make smaller amendments.
"When we meet with people, we're telling them this: we say, we understand you have immediate needs but we ask them for their patience as we try to do this massive job of reorganizing all the current act," he said.
Province wants people's feedback
The department is looking for public feedback about the changes. People can have their say online or send a written submission to:
Traffic Safety Act Engagement/Policy and Planning
Department of Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal
P.O. Box 186
Halifax, NS B3J 2N2
The deadline for feedback is June 8.