12/07/2015 04:41 EST | Updated 12/07/2016 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia May Fine Residents Nearly $700 For Jaywalking

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Businessman walking across street

HALIFAX — A bill that increases the fine for jaywalking in Nova Scotia to nearly $700 is being roundly criticized by active transportation advocates and pedestrians alike.

The bill, which passed third reading last week, boosts the fine from $410 to $697.50 - more than the penalty for using a cell phone behind the wheel and well above jaywalking fines in other cities and provinces.

The penalty for jaywalking ranges from a maximum of $30 in Quebec and $50 in Ontario to $250 in Edmonton.

Nova Scotia officials say the increase in what was already the highest jaywalking fine in the country is intended to create consistency between fines for drivers and pedestrians while also acting as a deterrent.

'A distraction' from real work

A member of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax calls the fine "disproportionate and counterproductive."

"It's a distraction from the real work that needs to be done, which is to design streets that are safer for everybody,'' said Tristan Cleveland in an interview.

Vehicle-pedestrian accidents are a persistent problem in Nova Scotia and its capital in particular. Official figures show police in Halifax had responded to 153 such collisions by the end of October, down from 184 in the same period the year before.

A report compiled by Halifax Regional Police states two of the incidents in 2015 resulted in the death of the pedestrian, though more than three-quarters of the incidents resulted in no injuries. No injuries to drivers were reported.

Of those incidents in which summary offence tickets were issued, 56 were given to drivers and four to pedestrians. No tickets were issued in the other 93 collisions.

"You could have a law that's poorly enforced and a few extremely unlucky people. That is not a productive law."

Cleveland says there is little evidence that an increase in fines is an effective strategy when it comes to deterring people from jaywalking.

"As far as we can tell, there is no evidence to support that catastrophically huge fines helps save lives,'' he says. "If anything it decreases the amount police actually issue the tickets."

"You could have a law that's poorly enforced and a few extremely unlucky people. That is not a productive law.''

Cleveland says one of the biggest problems with the larger fine is is that it deters people from walking and unfairly targets lower-income households. He's created a Facebook page calling on the province to repeal the bill, replete with opinion, letters that members have written to their elected representatives, and links to published studies and articles on pedestrian safety.

"'We all need the streets' is the exact reason we should be treating driving a car as a privilege and a responsibility,'' wrote Dylan Ames on the page. "We shouldn't be fining pedestrians excessively or making barriers to people being able to use active transportation."

Comments on the page show the new bill also has its supporters.

"I personally think that they have raised the cost to get pedestrians to smarten up. It will save their life," wrote Elaine Crouse. "Motorists already receive a harsh penalty if they are in the wrong and the pedestrian should as well."

The RCMP says officers haven't issued a single jaywalking fine in the Halifax area in 2015. The force doesn't track jaywalking statistics for the rest of the province.

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