When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Freedom to Walk Act in late September, several headlines surfaced claiming that California had ‘decriminalized’ jaywalking, but how true is that statement?
AB 2147, which goes into effect January 2023, aims to protect pedestrians from receiving citations for jaywalking. However, “it’s still technically illegal to cross the street in the middle of the street,” Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the bill’s sponsor, told LAist.
So, what qualifies as jaywalking and what difference does this new law aim to make?
What is jaywalking?
Dating back to the early 1900s, this term was weaponized by the auto industry to victim-blame pedestrians who were being killed during the early years of automobile usage (the word “jay” means idiot from the countryside). By the mid-1920s, Los Angeles adopted jaywalking laws that limited pedestrian movement.
Today, you can receive a jaywalking citation for the following acts:
- Crossing a street outside of a marked crosswalk
- Crossing a road 15 feet away from a marked crosswalk
- Crossing a roadway at a crosswalk when the light flashes the “do not walk” symbol
In California, a pedestrian found guilty of jaywalking could be fined up to $200, plus court fees.
What does AB 2147 change?
Under AB 2147, police officers cannot stop and cite a pedestrian “unless a reasonably careful person would realize there is an immediate danger of a collision with a moving vehicle or other device moving exclusively by human power."
This allows for pedestrians to cross the street outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic signal without getting a citation, but critics question the timing of this new law as pedestrian deaths in 2021 reached the highest number in four decades. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, an estimated 7,485 pedestrians in the U.S. were killed by motorists in 2021.
In October of last year, Newsom vetoed the previous proposed jaywalking law, AB 1238, citing data that showed about 30% of California’s traffic deaths in recent years were pedestrian fatalities and that 63% of them were the result of pedestrians “taking actions against traffic controls or safety laws.”
Although AB 2147 was deemed safer by Newsom, critics highlight a different concern with the wording of the law; what will ‘immediate danger’ mean from one officer to the next?
“If we have policies in gray areas, who are the people that are screwed over the most? It's usually people of color, pedestrians, people without political social capital,” said John Yi, executive director of the local pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks.
According to USA Today, Ting said California’s jaywalking laws are arbitrarily enforced, but this new law will prevent potentially escalating police stops, as tickets are disproportionately given to people of color and lower-income individuals.
LAPD citation records from 2010 to 2020 show that 31.5% of jaywalking citations were given to Black pedestrians – Los Angeles has a roughly 9% Black population. During that same period, about 1,157 pedestrians in L.A. were killed by drivers, with thousands more seriously injured.
The root of the problem.
Pedestrian advocates like Yi have called for more effort to improve the city’s infrastructure, an issue highlighted by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), co-author of AB 2147. “If people are jaywalking a lot in an area, it's probably because they don't have a good way to get across the street. I'd rather have communities start thinking about adding more crosswalks, adding better signage, putting a light up, putting up a stop sign, adding a sidewalk — doing all the things that we know actually do make people safer,” she said.
L.A.’s Vision Zero initiative prioritizes these exact infrastructure improvements to reduce traffic deaths and make the city’s streets safer for all. To read more about this initiative, check out our blog post.
What should you do if you’ve been in a jaywalking accident?
California follows the law of comparative negligence, meaning an injured party may recover damages from liable parties depending on their level of responsibility in the accident. This means if you were hit by a vehicle while jaywalking, you may still be compensated for your injuries.
Even if a pedestrian contributed to their own injuries, the California Vehicle Code states that drivers must exercise due care, and if they don’t, they can be considered negligent and liable for the pedestrian’s injury.
In the event of a jaywalking accident, the court can decide that the pedestrian is 40% liable while the driver is 60% liable. In this case, the pedestrian can only recover 60% of the damages.
If you’ve been injured in a jaywalking accident, contact the skilled personal injury lawyers at Custodio & Dubey LLP. With over 25 years of experience, our lawyers will guide you at every step of the way to help you receive the justice you deserve.