Does this sound familiar? You’re walking along a city sidewalk on a mild spring day, revelling in the welcome scent of melting snow, when a passing driver hits a puddle of dirty run-off on the roadway and sends up a wave, leaving you soaked.
At best, you’re uncomfortable and at worst, inconvenienced, if you were on your way to work or someplace else where you need to be presentable.
So if this happens to you, is there anything you can do, aside from seeking out a dry cleaner and a change of clothes?
In the British town of St. Ives, just north of Cambridge, a woman called the police in early January after a driver splashed her and her kids as the trio walked along the sidewalk. The local police said that if they were able to track down the driver in that case, the offender could face a fine of up to £5,000 – or nearly $9,000 – and a public-order offence.
That got us thinking about what recourse Canadian pedestrians – along with cyclists and people using mobility scooters – have in the event they’re splashed by a driver. As it turns out, there are just three jurisdictions in Canada with specific laws on their books to deal with drive-by splashings.
Prince Edward Island’s provincial Highway Traffic Act states that “no person shall, while operating a vehicle upon a highway, splash pedestrians or other persons with water, slush or mud.” A charge under that section of the act comes with a fine of $100 to $500.
And in Saskatchewan, traffic bylaws in the cities of Regina and Saskatoon both contain sections that make it an offence to splash or project dirt, water, or slush onto a pedestrian by driving through a puddle or spinning the vehicle’s tires.
“Anecdotally, it’s the kind of thing that’s dealt with on a complaint basis,” said Staff Sergeant Patrick Barbar of the Saskatoon Police Service. “It’s not something like a school zone that could be proactively enforced. There’s not much to proactively enforce unless you park next to a big puddle and wait for cars to splash people... so I would anticipate the numbers would be quite low.”
Barbar said the city’s bylaw specifies a $90 fine for a splashing offence. Down the road in Regina, Sergeant Ian Barr said that city doesn’t have a set fine, but an accused driver must make a court appearance where a traffic justice would set a fine they deem appropriate based on the circumstances.
Charlottetown, PEI’s deputy police chief Gary McGuigan told us that the section of the Island’s Highway Traffic Act we quoted above is also rarely used.
“As a rule, we issue written or verbal warnings unless the evidence is overwhelming, in which case we would issue a summons for court,” he said. “I believe the last time a summons was issued, a road crew was doing work in an area where there was some flooding and a truck intentionally sped up and travelled through the water, splashing the work crew.”
According to the Ottawa Police Service, neither that city nor the Province of Ontario has a specific law to deal with splashing, but Constable Marc Soucy said there is the possibility of a mischief charge under the Criminal Code in cases of intentional splashing, but the cops can’t invoke that unless the victim provides proof of that intent.
Intentional or otherwise, the police could charge a driver under other sections of provincial or municipal law in a splashing incident.
“This type of thing is also covered by other legislation,” said Saskatoon’s Sergeant Barbar. “Even in cities and towns that don’t have specific regulations for this, it’s still covered under the provincial traffic safety act under a more broadly defined section.”
In Saskatchewan’s case, Section 213 of the Traffic Safety Act says that “no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway ... without due care and attention (or) without reasonable consideration for others,” and according to Barbar, a charge under that section comes with a $280 fine.
Wherever you are in Canada, if you call the police to complain about being splashed, at minimum you’ll need to provide them with the licence plate of the car in question, and you may need to attend a court date if there’s enough evidence to make a case against the driver.
McGuigan said that if a victim can positively identify the driver who splashed them, that would help “bring the matter to a successful conclusion.” But that’s not a necessity, according to Barbar, who said officers on his force can issue a ticket to the registered owner of the vehicle.
We’d like to think that most splashing incidents are actually accidents, and so does Barbar, who suggests pedestrians do what they can to avoid being vulnerable to splashes.
“I’m not belittling the issue: if you’re walking and you get splashed, it’s quite infuriating and disrespectful,” he said. “But by the same token, (for a driver) it’s sometimes hard to see those puddles coming up with traffic and whatnot, so there should be a balance there.”
The upshot? If you’re on foot, look out for puddles, but if you do get splashed, don’t get mad: get the licence plate.