How The Freedom To Walk Act Will Change California Jaywalking Laws

pedestrians crossing street

The Tightening Of California Pedestrian Laws

In the 1930s, the automobile was rapidly becoming an American staple, leading to the construction of highways and freeways.

Shortly after, the country’s economy skyrocketed. Market goods were being transported more efficiently, and certain cities grew to be the metropolises that they are today.

But this came with its own sets of repercussions. “Small town” America, as people knew it, faded into oblivion, and perhaps arguably more concerning was the rise of pedestrian fatalities.

Around this time, heavy metals were becoming a domineering force in the streets, leaving walking individuals (mostly children) vulnerable to personal injury or worse — death. As a result, jaywalking laws were enforced, barring people from crossing the streets to accommodate vehicles traveling to their destinations.

However, this was the first time laws of this nature were introduced. Prior to the pervasive presence of the automobile, crossing the streets was never regulated.

And while jaywalking laws have helped ease pedestrian-related fatalities overtime, they nevertheless put the onus of blame on the pedestrians rather than the drivers who are operating their vehicles recklessly. To make matters worse, the urban planning of many places in the nation (ie: California) prioritize vehicles over the safety of the people, indirectly creating the conditions that allow drivers to act as recklessly as they do.

Simply put, the main cause of the problem hasn’t been uprooted.

Indeed, jaywalking laws were passed with intent of protecting pedestrians, but the issues they do have still linger in the 21st century. This time, however, their effects have been found to disproportionately affect people across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

For this reason, California’s District 19 Assemblymember Phil Ting pushed to sponsor The Freedom To Walk Act.

The Easing Of Jaywalking Laws In California

On October 1, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom passed AB 2147 or The Freedom To Walk Act, which will decriminalize jaywalking in California effective January 1, 2023.

As aforementioned, this law is passed to address the inequities on how the police have enforced these laws, with certain racial groups found to be more disproportionately affected than others.

But fact of the matter is, urban planning in Los Angeles is not optimal for pedestrian safety. While this is a right step towards addressing the inequities born out of jaywalking laws, it remains to be seen how this will affect pedestrian safety.

For this reason, the Los Angeles Times reports that the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies will work together with the California Highway Patrol in putting together a report investigating how the decriminalization of jaywalking has affected pedestrian fatalities. This report is due on January 1, 2028.

Safety Tips For Pedestrians

  • Look both ways before crossing

  • Follow the timed crosswalk

  • Increase visibility by wearing bright clothing

Safety Tips For Cars

  • Eyes on the road

  • Yield to all pedestrians

  • Don’t text and drive

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