Autumn Changes – Advanced Pedestrian Lights and the new Traffic Safety Act

by Mark Raftus

As summer moves into fall, many seasonal changes take place. Children return to school, days are not as warm or long, leaves change color and we prepare for the long winter ahead.

Change is a constant and quite often, is for the good. The positive aspect of change can be seen in recent developments implemented by HRM and the Provincial government aimed at protecting pedestrians and motorists in Nova Scotia.

HRM statistics reveal in the first eight months of 2018 there were 120 vehicle-pedestrian collisions in HRM with 61 percent of them happening in a crosswalk. In an effort to improve safety for these pedestrians, HRM has installed what they refer to as “advanced pedestrian lights” at six high-pedestrian traffic intersections in the City – five in Halifax and one in Dartmouth.

Allowing Pedestrians a Head Start

These new lights came into effect on Thursday, October 11, 2018. How they work is the green pedestrian “walking man” signal comes on for several seconds before the green traffic light changes permitting vehicle traffic to proceed ahead through an intersection or turn. In this way, pedestrians are given a head start to proceed forward into the crosswalk and establish their presence. Vehicle drivers will see the pedestrians more readily and allow them to complete their right-of-way crossing. HRM advises they will monitor this initiative and if it works to reduce collisions HRM will add more of these advanced pedestrian lights at other intersections in the City.

An even more sweeping change than advanced pedestrian lights is in the offing. The outdated Motor Vehicle Act will be replaced by the new Traffic Safety Act as early as this coming winter/spring session of the legislature. Bill 80 was introduced by The Honourable Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Lloyd Hines on October 3, 2018 and has gone through to Third Reading on October 11, 2018. The provincial government advises the new Act is designed to make roads safer for all users including drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians by modernizing/updating areas of activity that were not contemplated when the Motor Vehicle Act first came into effect in the early part of the 20th century when drivers still drove on the left side of the road.

Expand Distracted Driving

Some of the key changes in the new Traffic Safety Act will be to expand the definition of distracted driving and make it illegal to check hand held devices such as cell phones or tablets while behind the wheel for anything – not just checking emails or texting. Fines will increase from $295 to $410 and licenses will be suspended automatically for up to six months if the distraction results in a serious injury or death.

The new Act will also define a “vulnerable road user” to include people who walk, use a bicycle or are part of work crews on roads and highways. Drivers who injure or kill these vulnerable road users will see their fines double from the current level and also face lengthy automatic suspensions of their licenses with exact penalties still to be determined after debate occurs in the legislature.

There are some critics of this new legislation who state the fines and suspensions do not go far enough but that will be debated by the Legislative Assembly members in the coming months.

The positive is that there will be real changes coming to the rules of the road which will make driving safer for the most vulnerable users of our roadways.

This change is very welcome to the people of Nova Scotia. Even if winter is not.

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