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It Will Soon Be More Expensive To Jaywalk Than To Drink And Drive In Nova Scotia

You'd be better off getting caught speeding past a stopped school bus than jaywalking.

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Anyone who's spent time in Halifax knows it's a pedestrian city. Stroll down Spring Garden Road and you'll regularly see people darting across the street. But the provincial Liberal government hopes to change that.

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This year the province is upping its fines for jaywalking to $700 for a first offence. It's $1,272 for a second offence and a whopping $2,422 for a third offence.

As you'd expect, that's far outside what is normal in Canada. Jaywalking fees in many cities range between $15 and $100.

Once the changes are enacted, which should happen sometime in the next few months, it will be more expensive to get caught jaywalking in Nova Scotia than to get caught:

  • Texting while driving.
  • Driving more than 30 kilometres per hour over the speed limit in a school or construction zone.
  • Driving with a blood alcohol level above .05.
  • Driving more than 30 kilometres per hour over the speed limit while passing a stopped emergency vehicle.
  • Failing to stop when a school bus is flashing a red light.
  • Failing to drive with caution when passing a school bus flashing an amber light.
  • Driving across a solid double line.
  • Driving a prohibited vehicle on a highway.
  • Driving a car without a valid driver's license.
  • Failing to report an accident resulting in injury or death.
  • Throwing objects at a motor vehicle.

So why is a pedestrian-friendly province throwing the book at pedestrians? It's in response to an alarmingly high rate of accidents.

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In the province of a little under a million people, there are an average of 286 pedestrian injuries and seven pedestrian deaths each year due to collisions, according to provincial figures.

So Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff MacLellan decided to make some changes. He took a slew of traffic charges for drivers and pedestrians and raised them all to the same price — $697.50 for a first offence.

"The idea behind that was we would send the message that it is a shared responsibility. So everyone, regardless of pedestrian or driver, everyone would be subject to the same fines," he told BuzzFeed Canada.

Under this system, a driver failing to yield to a pedestrian will be ticketed the same amount as someone who crosses the street during a "don't walk" light.

MacLellan insists he's not trying to target pedestrians, but to prevent injuries. He says police will use their discretion and only give out tickets if a pedestrian jaywalks in a dangerous way.

"The whole idea behind this is that it's going to be a deterrent," he said.

"The dollar amount is almost irrelevant to me, in the sense that we don't want people doing this."

In Nova Scotia it's actually legal to cross a street as long as no cars are nearby. But you could be ticketed if a car is coming or if you cross at a crosswalk while a countdown or don't walk sign is flashing.

In response, the Facebook group Repeal $697 Pedestrian Fines was set up and activists have come out swinging.

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If the government wants to deter jaywalking they should drastically lower jaywalking fines, says Ben Wedge, chair of the Halifax Cycling Coalition.

Because the tickets are "completely out of scale" with the offence, police are already hesitant to give out jaywalking tickets, he said. Whereas in cities with $25-$50 fines police will hand them out.

Ultimately, said Wedge, pedestrians are already careful because they know that they're the ones who are going to be injured in a collision, not the driver.

"The punishment has to be proportional to the crime committed," he said.

The bill hiking the fines has already been passed by the legislature but has not yet come into force. That could happen any time.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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