PEDESTRIAN – CAR COLLISIONS: AN EPIDEMIC IN NOVA SCOTIA

by John McKiggan

“Are there more car-pedestrian collisions than usual in Halifax?”

I was having this discussion with my Senior Associate Mark Raftus recently. He had been doing some research on the topic and I thought his findings were interesting, so I asked him to post about it on this blog.

Take it away Mark…

If you have formed an impression that there are more pedestrian – car collisions happening now than in the past you are correct. Despite significant media coverage and calls for action from politicians, pedestrian-car collision numbers continue to rise in Nova Scotia.

What is truly unfortunate is that most of these incidents are entirely preventable with more awareness and attention to their surroundings being paid by car drivers and pedestrians alike.

How often as drivers have we watched a pedestrian step off a curb nowhere near a crosswalk without looking or witnessed a pedestrian briskly step into a crosswalk without ensuring the approaching vehicles have stopped?

On the flip side, how often as pedestrians have we activated the amber crosswalk light only to watch an absentminded driver blast by talking on their phone?

All too often is the appropriate reply for all of these questions.

Police statistics

In a December 5, 2014 article HRM police advised there were 18 more car-pedestrian collisions in October, 2014 than in October, 2013 and 15 more in November, 2014 than November, 2013.

An HRM police spokesperson Const. Pierre Bourdages was quoted with some frustration as saying:

“We keep trying to educate as much as possible, enforcing every time we have a report of these collisions, but they keep happening,”

Cst Bourdages advised that seventeen of the November accidents happened in bad weather, compared to six in October. Twenty-nine of the accidents happened in darkness and eight in daylight, compared to eight in darkness and 11 in daylight in October.

Visibility and paying attention

It is apparent there is a relationship between bad weather, dark lighting conditions and these collisions. Visibility is a key factor. Whether as driver or pedestrian we all have to pay more attention to prevent these collisions from taking place. Further, these statistics have been collected before the onset of the winter season which will carry its own further inherent dangers of slippery conditions and even more reduced visibility. Pedestrians and drivers alike will have to be even more vigilant of each other as the winter weather arrives.

Is more ticketing the answer?

Paying attention and being aware of each other is the key. How can both pedestrian and driver alike be motivated to pay more attention beyond self-commitment?

Consumer safety advocates have been quoted as saying that when ticket issuance goes up then collisions go down.

Speaking at the city’s Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee, Norm Collins said a dedicated enforcement unit in other cities has led to more tickets and fewer collisions:

“There is data out of Montreal that shows that the number of tickets has gone up considerably, the number of collisions that have involved injury or fatality has gone down,” said Collins.

It may be that Nova Scotians will have to be ticketed more in order to become more safety conscious.

What are the rules?

Pedestrians and drivers owe each other duties at law. Many of these laws are based on common sense such as pedestrians activating crosswalk lights before crossing the street, pedestrians not leaving a curb if a car is so close that it cannot stop or cars stopping to allow pedestrians already in a crosswalk to finish crossing.

There are a number of sections of the Motor Vehicle Act that are relevant to car-pedestrian accident claims.

Section 100 of the Motor Vehicle Act imposes a duty on drivers to drive carefully. Section 100(1) reads:

Every person driving or operating a motor vehicle on a highway or any place ordinarily accessible to the public shall drive or operate the same in a careful and prudent manner having regard to all the circumstances.

Section 101 of the Motor Vehicle Act states:

A person operating or driving a vehicle on a highway shall operate or drive the same at a careful and prudent rate of speed not greater than is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface and width of the highway and of all other conditions at the time existing, and a person shall not operate or drive a vehicle upon a highway at such a speed or in such a manner as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person.

These sections of the Motor Vehicle Act place a positive responsibility on a driver of a motor vehicle to operate the vehicle with due care and consideration to all the circumstances.

Section 125 of the Act deals specifically with pedestrians:

Pedestrian and vehicle rights of way

125 (1) Where pedestrian movements are not controlled by traffic signals,

(a) the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian lawfully within a crosswalk or stopped facing a crosswalk;

(b) where the traffic on a highway is divided into separate roadways by a median, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian lawfully within a crosswalk or stopped facing the crosswalk on the roadway on which the vehicle is travelling.

(2) Where a vehicle has stopped at a crosswalk to yield to a pedestrian pursuant to subsection (1), it is an offence for the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear to overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.

(3) A pedestrian shall not leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so closely approaching that it is impractical for the driver of the vehicle to stop.

(4) Where a pedestrian is crossing a roadway at a crosswalk that has a pedestrian-activated beacon, the pedestrian shall not leave a curb or other place of safety unless the pedestrian-activated beacon has been activated.

(5) A pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a crosswalk shall yield the right of way to vehicles upon the roadway.

(6) This Section does not relieve a pedestrian or a driver of a vehicle from the duty to exercise due care. 2007, c. 45, s. 9

.

“What if I am hit by a car when I’m not in a cross walk?”

We get asked that question a lot. Many people assume if they aren’t in a cross walk and they get hit by a car they are not entitled to make a claim for compensation for their injuries.

But that may not be the case. Every claim depends on it’s own facts and the court will consider all of the circumstances before deciding if a pedestrian is entitled to compensation.

In Simpson Estate v. Cox, the Court assessed fault for an accident that happened on a residential street at approximately 9:30pm. The street was dark with streetlights on every second utility pole. The pavement was dry and the weather was clear.

The 81-year-old plaintiff was crossing the street but she was not in a crosswalk. She made it approximately 70% of the way across the street when she was struck by the defendant’s car.

The plaintiff and defendant both hired accident reconstruction experts. Both experts agreed had the plaintiff been exercising due care, she should have seen the defendant’s vehicle and stopped so as to avoid the collision.

But the experts disagreed as to when the plaintiff would have been visible to the defendant driver. The court also noted the evidence of a witness who was driving immediately behind the defendant driver. This witness saw movement of a person in front of the defendant’s vehicle, which supported the plaintiff’s position that the defendant driver should have also seen this movement in time to stop.

The court attributed 40% liability (fault) to the defendant and 60% contributory negligence to the plaintiff.

In Bond v. Chisholm, the court considered liability for an accident where two pedestrians were crossing a street (in an area other than a crosswalk) at night in poor visibility and heavy rain. The defendant testified that he did not see the plaintiffs until they appeared in front of his car at which time they were 10 to 15 feet in front of him.

The first pedestrian saw the oncoming lights of the defendant’s vehicle and could have stopped crossing the street and thus avoid the accident. The second pedestrian did not make any check for oncoming traffic as he crossed the street. It was a dark evening and raining very hard, therefore, visibility was poor. The plaintiffs were wearing light coloured clothing. The plaintiffs were found to be 70% at fault but the driver was still found to be 30% at fault.

In Redden v. Hector, the plaintiff was struck by a car while crossing a busy street at night in a rainstorm in an area other than on a crosswalk. The plaintiff testified she first became aware of the car when she was approximately half way across the street. The driver said that when he was 75 to 100 feet from the accident scene, he noticed a number of girls running across the street so he put his foot on the brake so that he could stop if it became necessary. While these girls crossed the street safely, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, a person dashed off of the boulevard and into his path. He braked but was unable to avoid the collision.

The court found the plaintiff was negligent in not crossing at the crosswalk but stated that the driver, particularly at a very busy intersection, is under a greater responsibility to see that he doesn’t injure any pedestrian. The court found that if he was going at the speed he says and he had seen the plaintiff dash off of the boulevard, it could not see why he could not have taken evasive action or braked to prevent hitting the plaintiff.

The court divided fault 55% against the plaintiff and 45% against the defendant.

Pedestrian usually (mostly) at fault if they aren’t in a cross walk

These cases, and others, tell us that in most cases the courts will not look favourably on pedestrians who are hit when they are crossing the street other than in a cross walk.

But as we can see from the reported cases, the courts will also look at the drivers conduct to ensure that the driver was exercising due care considering all of the circumstances.

Conclusion

The increasing numbers of pedestrian vs car collisions is alarming. As stated above both pedestrians and drivers have duties and responsibilities to each other. Only through increased vigilance on the part of both driver and pedestrian alike will these preventable collisions and injuries be reduced.

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We have been representing victims of serious personal injuries for more than 20 years. We wrote Crash Course:The Consumers Guide to Car Accident Claims in Nova Scotia to help educate car accident victims and their familes so they can have a better chance of receiving full and fair compensation.

Crash Course is available for sale on Amazon.

But if you live in Atlantic Canada, you can get a free copy of the book by contacting us through this blog, or by calling me toll free in Atlantic Canada at 1-877-891-1664.

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