Out-of-province students may be driving illegally

Students from other provinces say N.S. requirement to update their driver’s licence 30 days after moving to the province is too restrictive.

Many student drivers don't know they could face a stiff fine for not transferring their licences to Nova Scotia. Photo: Allison McCabe

Melissa Boyle, a fifth-year Mount Saint Vincent University student, rides to campus three days a week in the old, forest green Honda Civic she inherited at the beginning of her undergraduate degree.

She parks by permit in the university lot, has never had a speeding ticket and won't answer her ringing cell phone when behind the wheel. Boyle is conscientious about the rules of the road but like most out-of-province students in Nova Scotia, she is driving illegally. It could cost her $282.71.

Despite Access Nova Scotia's visitor policy, which requires newcomers to the province to transfer their valid home driver's licence to a Nova Scotian one within 90 days of arrival, thousands of so-called temporary residents believe they're exempt because they maintain a permanent address outside the province.

The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission lists 14,136 out-of-province students enrolled in Nova Scotia post-secondary institutions in the 2008-09 academic year.

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Melissa Boyle talks about why she hasn't transferred her New Brunswick license to Nova Scotia. Video: Emily Graff

Boyle's plates and New Brunswick driver's licence are still registered to her home province and she says she'll keep them there until she's a permanent resident.

Lori Errington, a communications adviser with Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, says anyone who spends more than 30 days a year in the province is considered a resident under the Motor Vehicle Act. That includes students who return home for the summer months.

She says there are a number of offences under the act that may seem obscure to the average motorist (such as regulations concerning horse-racing on the province's highways) but the visiting driver policy serves a purpose.

"It's important that we can enforce our driving standards. The tools available to us are more limited with out-of-province licence-holders," she says.

"We can suspend their driving privileges for a time but we can't suspend their licences. That's why we require students who drive to register with us for the duration of their stay in Nova Scotia."

The cost and inconvenience of switching back and forth discourage some students from turning in their home driver's licences. Lauren Brown, a fourth-year student at Dalhousie University, learned about the policy a few years ago but hasn't complied.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Brown, who is from Napanee, Ont. "[Returning to] Ontario you would have to switch back, then come back in September and switch again. You'd have to pay for new licence plates as well. It's totally ridiculous for just eight months."

Transfer fees for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island residents are $10.70 but for students from outside the Maritimes a licence exchange costs $22.56. Brown isn't worried for now but she would consider the exchange.

"If I heard that a lot of people were getting in trouble for it," she said, "I'd think about switching over and keep it for the next two years. I wouldn't bother switching back in Ontario."

Alberta's legislation makes an exception for full-time students and those working in the province as part of a co-op, allowing out-of-province students to keep their valid driver's licences from home jurisdictions. While its policy is the most lenient, students are also exempt under various policies in British Columbia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.

Service Nova Scotia doesn't record how many students transfer their licences or how many are fined because the information is spread out over too many departments. But Errington says police do enforce the regulation.

"I don't think it's something they would go after unless the student happened to be caught driving without the proper licence," she said. "If the authorities pulled them over for something else and found out that the licence is not registered in Nova Scotia and that they go to school here, the student could be facing problems."



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