A Halifax criminal lawyer says the province’s Move Over law creates more problems than it aims to fix, and he’s also taking issue with the way police enforce the legislation.
“My concern about that law has always been in its potential for actually causing an accident,” said Tom Singleton. “Someone sees the emergency lights, they suddenly have to slow down and try to pull over, and they’re not fully paying attention to their surroundings. That’s where it potentially creates a danger.
“I can understand the reason for it, to protect police officers and other emergency responders who are trying to do their duty. That’s a great objective. But it has the potential of creating a safety problem.”
Singleton, who has successfully challenged the law on one occasion, says it’s generally enforced through a suspect technique of entrapment. Generally, two police vehicles work in tandem. After one conducts a pullover, the other parks in front of the vehicles. That officer ensures motorists are slowing to 60 km/h while moving to the neighbouring lane, if safety permits. Sometimes it’s an unmarked car conducting the pullover, which has the potential to further confuse drivers, said Singleton.
“The police should not be setting things up to try to entrap people,” said Singleton. “Basically, what they would be doing is having a marked cruiser off to the side of the road with its lights flashing
and another vehicle there and using that basically as a pretext to lay this kind of a charge.”
Nova Scotia RCMP is in the midst of a crackdown on motorists breaking the law. In Halifax alone, 19 drivers were charged by Halifax District RCMP last month, and 563 tickets were issued in the area from when the legislation came into effect, on May 1, 2010, to Feb. 6, 2018. The RCMP was not able to provide provincewide statistics. A violation carries a fine of from $352.50 to $2,442.50.
Beyond the potential safety concerns, Singleton also says the charge is difficult for people to contest.
“As a motorist, you’re supposed to drive carefully, prudently and following all the rules. You can be doing all those things and still find yourself potentially being ticketed because in the opinion of a police officer you did not slow down or pull over to the neighbouring lane fast enough.
“They’re difficult to fight because most people don’t drive around with dash cameras operating on their cars and the other motorists that are in the area, who may have been at the very place that made it next to impossible for you to pull over, will be long gone. How will you identify them to get them as possible witnesses?
“You’re talking about a snapshot of an event that occurs in four or five seconds.”
Fellow Halifax criminal lawyer Jonathan Hughessupports the law. He said like all laws, there is a multitude of ways to contest it. But in the two years he spent prosecuting traffic violations, he’s only witnessed a couple of people successfully beat the charge.
Furthermore, he said, he has not seen evidence to suggest the law has resulted in an increase in traffic accidents, and he insists the law is doing what it’s intended to do: protect emergency responders. He also rejects the notion that the police are entrapping unsuspecting drivers.
“At the end of the day the whole purpose of that law is for officer safety,” said Hughes. “If they’re setting out to ensure that law is enforced, there is no other way for them to enforce that law.
“I don’t imagine a great portion of the public has been standing on the roadside with a stream of traffic going by at 110 to 120 kilometres per hour.“People think police are griping about nothing, it’s a chintzy charge, without realizing the actual effect of having several thousand tons of metal moving by you at a high rate of speed, the danger that it poses to police officers conducting traffic stops.”
He said most police officers use discretion in enforcing the law and to minimize the chances of an incident.
Regardless, Singleton believes that the law can often unfairly target otherwise responsible drivers who are doing their best to be diligent.
“The police are going to have to apply a lot of common sense to this,” said Singleton. “I think judges would tend to be reluctant to convict people in situations where, in many cases, they have a very limited time to react.”