Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's new traffic rules seek to protect 'vulnerable road users'

The Nova Scotia government is replacing the law that governs Nova Scotia's highways, roads and sidewalks. The Traffic Safety Act aims to give extra protection to pedestrians, cyclists and those who respond to roadside emergencies.

Pedestrians, cyclists, police, fire and emergency crews to be designated vulnerable road users

Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines (Robert Short/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government is rewriting the rules of the road for the first time since 1932.

The Traffic Safety Act will replace the Motor Vehicle Act which recognizes highways, roads and sidewalks as shared spaces and that pedestrians, cyclists and those who respond to roadside emergencies deserve extra protection from motor vehicles.

"There are other people who do have access to the road," said Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines during a briefing with reporters before he introduced the bill in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

The proposed law introduces the concept of "vulnerable road users" which includes people who walk, cycle or emergency crews who work alongside roads and highways.

Motorists who injure or kill a vulnerable road user will see their fines double and their licences automatically suspended for up to six months after a conviction.

Using handheld devices forbidden

"I think that introducing this new category that will eventually raise the profile and make sure that drivers are respectful the vulnerable road users," said Hines.

The new act also explicitly forbids drivers from using handheld devices such as cellphones or tablets while behind the wheel. Currently the Motor Vehicle Act only forbids the use of a handheld phone to text.

Paul Arsenault, director of special projects at Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, said the fact the law was limited to texting made it a problem in court.

"We are aware of a few occasions where the Crown was having difficulty because police would have to go to court and prove the fact that the person was texting," he said.

"So the new legislation clarifies that," said Arsenault. "You cannot use the handheld device in any manner, shape or form."

Distracted drivers driving up premiums

Amanda Dean, Atlantic vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, called the proposed law "an incredible improvement." 

She said making the ban on handheld devices more explicit would "clarify an awful lot."

"We're doing way too much when we're behind the wheel so holding any device, manipulating any device while we're driving — not a great idea," she said.

"That's an incredibly irresponsible behaviour."

Insurers are worried about an increase in the number of accidents and deaths caused by drivers who are distracted.

Although Dean could not provide figures, she said accidents involving distracted motorists were driving up the cost of premiums.

"Claims drive premiums so the more claims that there are, the bigger the impact will be on premiums and anything that can improve road safety, anything that can help reduce collisions, fatalities and injuries, the industry is incredibly supportive of."

Name change applauded

Kelsey Lane of the Ecology Action Centre said changing the name of the act sends the right signal.

"This is a public space," said Lane. "Everybody, whether you're driving a car, whether you're walking, whether you're riding a bike, you have the right to use the public right of way." 

Lane is also supportive of doubling the fines for drivers who hit a vulnerable road user.

"We have to have proportionate consequences to the amount of harm you can do to another road user and doubling the fines is a good start."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.