You may have heard that jaywalking is now legal in California, but this is incorrect. Jaywalking is still against the law, but as of January 1, 2023, police are no longer permitted to stop pedestrians and issue citations for jaywalking unless the person who is crossing the street is creating a hazard.
What Is Jaywalking?
Jaywalking is not a legally defined criminal offense in California. It is a term used by people to describe ways that pedestrians cross the street that may be against the law. The laws regarding pedestrian road-crossing differ from state to state, so there is no consistent definition for jaywalking.
The term jaywalking is often used to describe the following types of behavior:
- Crossing the street outside of a crosswalk
- Crossing the street where there is no crosswalk
- Crossing the street where there isn’t an intersection
- Ignoring traffic signs that instruct pedestrians not to cross
- Ignoring traffic signals that say: “Don’t Walk!”
The History of Jaywalking Laws
The term jaywalking first came into common usage during the 1920s as automobiles became more prominent in this country. As cars grew more common on roads that were formerly the exclusive province of pedestrians, horses, and horse-drawn vehicles, the number of collisions between automobiles and pedestrians rose dramatically. There was widespread public outcry regarding injuries that automobile drivers were inflicting on pedestrians.
Many historians credit the automobile industry with “inventing” the crime of jaywalking. It was a clever way of shifting responsibility for crashes from drivers to pedestrians. At this time, many communities began passing laws against jaywalking that are still with us today.
Why California Changed Its Jaywalking Laws
Many advocates of legal reform argue that police use jaywalking laws to unfairly target and harass minorities and others who live in underprivileged communities.
Community leaders contend that citations for jaywalking impose undue hardship for many people. Heavy fines of up to $200 are often levied against jaywalkers. Observers note that this is particularly unfair because high-poverty neighborhoods don’t always have the funds to provide traffic accommodations, and there are fewer crosswalks in these areas.
Another major concern is that when the police stop someone for jaywalking, it often leads to unnecessary confrontations. These situations may escalate, often resulting in incidents of police violence. San Clemente, Sacramento, and Oakland are among California communities that have experienced protests, lawsuits, and unrest due to confrontations that resulted from jaywalking stops.
On September 30, 2022, Governor Newsome signed Assembly Bill 2147, which was sponsored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). The new law decriminalizes jaywalking in situations where no hazard is created for drivers or pedestrians.
People who support the new law maintain that it will provide the following benefits:
- Prevent unnecessary confrontations between police and pedestrians
- Increase fairness in underprivileged communities
- Relieve people from receiving onerous fines
- Discourage racial profiling by police officers
- Encourage walking, which is healthy and good for the environment
How This New Law Will Effect Drivers and Pedestrians
Under the new law, pedestrians are still required to obey posted instructions and traffic light commands, but pedestrians can only be issued a citation when their behavior causes a traffic hazard. Police are allowed to stop jaywalkers when “a reasonably cautious person would have realized there is immediate danger of collision.”
The new law states that pedestrians must be careful, and “no pedestrian may suddenly leave the curb or other place of safety and run into the path of a vehicle so close as to produce a hazard.”
Even though pedestrians will no longer be cited for certain types of behavior, it is still advisable to follow the traffic laws and watch out for vehicles when crossing the street. Safe drivers will want to continue to use discretion when traveling through intersections, especially in areas where they are likely to encounter pedestrians.
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