As the calendar turns to 2023, jaywalking will no longer be illegal in California.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Freedom to Walk bill into law in October, and it takes effect on January 1. The legislation ends ticketing for jaywalking unless doing so leads to “an immediate danger of a collision.”
Jaywalking laws have been on the books in most states since cars became popular in the middle of the 20th century. They are rarely enforced, particularly in major cities, but when they are, they are disproportionately levied in poorer neighborhoods and against people of color, studies have shown.
“It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street,” Assemblyman Phil Ting, sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. “When expensive tickets and unnecessary confrontations with police impact only certain communities, it’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”
Backers of the legislation said it is not possible for states and cities to solve traffic issues with jaywalking tickets. Anne Stuhldreher, director of the Financial Justice Project in San Francisco, said California’s pedestrian fatality rate is almost 25 percent higher than the national average.
“We can’t ticket our way to safer streets,” she said in 2021, according to Yahoo News. “The focus should be on designing smart streetscapes that are people-centric, not car-centric.”
She said potential solutions include slowing speed limits, banning right turns at red lights, and installing speed bumps on roads.
Ting said an added benefit of dropping jaywalking rules is to encourage more people to get out of their cars and walk short distances.
With the legislation, California is joining Virginia and the city of Kansas City, Missouri, in making jaywalking legal.
Jaywalking fines in California are $198 plus court costs.
Ting noted that people of color are 4.5 times more likely to be ticketed for jaywalking, a discrepancy that eliminating the law attempts to combat.
As part of the legislation, the California Highway Patrol will put together a report in 2028 to see what type of impact the jaywalking decision has had on pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
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