An empty stretch of the Cabot Trail in autumn

Photo from the Cabot Trail by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Did you know that Nova Scotia’s outdated Motor Vehicle Act is being replaced with a modern Traffic Safety Act?

It’s great news for all road users, given that the original Motor Vehicle Act is now almost 100 years old! The last major revision to the legislation was back in 1989, so an overhaul is long overdue, given how much things have changed since then.

The Province of Nova Scotia says the new regulations “include improvements to help keep pedestrians safe” and “measures to better protect cyclists,” among many other updates.

One major win is right in the title of the new act: instead of focusing strictly on the use of motor vehicles, the new Traffic Safety Act better encompasses all road users, including vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists.

The Province has invited public feedback on the new regulations and will be accepting comments until January 22, 2021.

As the provincial organization of cyclists in Nova Scotia, we want to ensure safe cycling is a top priority for the new act. But we have other objectives as well.

Our Objectives

  • Increase road safety for all road users
  • Promote and prioritize walking and wheeling for the health of people and the planet
  • Remove barriers to walking and wheeling that can create barriers for BIPOC communities
  • Increase the responsibility of motor vehicle drivers towards vulnerable road users
  • Expand the tools available to create continuous networks for walking and wheeling

Key Recommendations

As we transition from the outdated Motor Vehicle Act to the new Traffic Safety Act, there are many important principles Bicycle Nova Scotia would like to see considered.

We have identified three things that should be included when finalizing the recommendations, to better incorporate the needs of vulnerable road users in these regulations.

1) Establish a Hierarchy of Responsibility

An illustration showing which road users have the greatest responsibility to act safely, with truck drivers as the most responsible and pedestrians as the least.

Image courtesy of Cycling UK

In the current Motor Vehicle Act as well as the proposed Traffic Safety Act, there’s no established hierarchy of responsibility that details what category of road user is most responsible in the event of a collision.

It’s our view that those road users in charge of the largest (and therefore most potentially harmful vehicles) should bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to other road users.

The users who are most at-risk in a collision (pedestrians, and especially young children, older adults, or those with mobility issues) should have their needs considered first. Cyclists would be considered the next most vulnerable road users.

Cycling UK provides an excellent explanation for why the hierarchy of responsibility is needed.

This sort of hierarchy already exists for waterways in Canada, where official rules outline which vessels should yield to other vessels.

It’s our view that an official hierarchy of responsibility will make all road users safer. It’s long overdue and we would like to see it established in the new Traffic Safety Act.

As the old saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We feel that those with the most power to do harm on the roads must also have the greatest responsibility to travel safely.

2) Create a Dedicated Section for Cycling

A road cyclist rides along a curve in the road

Photo by Victor Xok on Unsplash

We would like to see a section of the Traffic Safety Act specifically dedicated to cycling.

Ideally, this section would pull together all bicycle-related clauses to function as an easy reference tool for cyclists and those who want to learn more about cycling regulations. It would help all road users understand the regulations and responsibilities of cyclists on Nova Scotia roads.

As currently written, there is an inconsistency in understanding how the Motor Vehicle Act relates to cycling and cyclists. We see this inconsistency in law enforcement firsthand in our work on bicycle incidents.

This section would also improve the experience of visitors to Nova Scotia and users of the Blue Route who may not be familiar with province-specific regulations related to cycling.

3) Identify the Bicycle as a Mobility Aid

A cyclist wearing high visibility clothing

Photo by Sebastian Huxley on Unsplash

Among the practically endless list of uses for bicycles, it’s important to acknowledge their use as mobility aids for persons with mobility issues.

Wheels for Wellbeing, a UK-based inclusive organization that aims to remove barriers to cycling, found that 75 percent of cyclists with disabilities use their bike as a mobility aid. This is a hugely important consideration as we seek to modernize legislation related to road use.

We would like to see the Traffic Safety Act officially recognize this and ensure that users of bicycles as mobility aids are considered when finalizing recommendations.

Anything we’ve missed?

These three recommendations are just a few of our top priorities, you can see our recommendations here. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop us a line!

The Province will continue to accept public feedback on the Traffic Safety Act until January 22, 2021. To provide your feedback, visit the Traffic Safety Act: Public Engagement website or email [email protected] directly.