On October 4th, Governor Jerry Brown officially signed Assembly Bill 390, which allows pedestrians to use a crosswalk when the countdown symbol is displayed, effective January 1, 2018. Previously, this was actually illegal – if you started walking across the street while the countdown was happening, it was technically jaywalking, and you could have potentially been cited for it.
This issue brings up an important question: what exactly counts as jaywalking, and how serious is it as a crime? It’s funny to bring up jaywalking and think of it as illegal, but by jaywalking, you are breaking the law.
What Exactly is Jaywalking?
Jaywalking is generally defined as the act of crossing a street when it is unlawful to do so. Most states do not have single, explicit laws against jaywalking, but rather multiple legal mandates that make certain methods of crossing the street illegal.
In California, jaywalking is fairly lenient – you can generally cross anywhere across a road, even outside of crosswalks – marked or unmarked. The exceptions are covered by several California Vehicle Codes:
- CVC 21106: It is illegal to cross a street when there are signs which indicate that crossing is not allowed.
- CVC 21456: It is illegal to cross at a marked crosswalk when the crosswalk signal is at the “DON’T WALK” phase of its signal.
- CVC 21955: It is illegal to cross a street if you are between adjacent intersections controlled by crosswalk signals or police officers.
CVC 21955 is the “classic” legal definition of jaywalking, and is typically the one most commonly enforced by law enforcement officers.
You may also incur further infractions that aren’t necessarily jaywalking in the traditional sense. This includes:
- Failure to yield right-of-way to vehicles when not crossing at marked or unmarked crosswalks
- If a pedestrian unnecessarily stops or delays traffic while crossing at a marked or unmarked crosswalk
- If a pedestrian suddenly walks or runs into the path of a vehicle with no regard for safety
How Serious is Jaywalking?
Jaywalking is a relatively minor infraction, but the costs of jaywalking may be higher than you think.
For example, if a police officer cites you for CVC 21955, you may face a fine as high as $250. That number can get higher if you are found in violation of any of the other aforementioned pedestrian walking laws. That’s a higher fine than most parking tickets, and some common traffic citations!
Jaywalking Tickets are the Price to Pay for Pedestrian Safety
Citations for jaywalking seem so disproportionately high because they’re primarily used as a deterrent for pedestrians crossing the road with no regard for safety.
California ranks high in pedestrian deaths in the country – along with New York, Florida, and Texas, the four states accounted for 42 percent of all pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2016.
San Francisco in particular is one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians – according to city officials, it has the second highest rate of pedestrian injury and death after New York City. In 2015, more than 50 percent of all traffic deaths in San Francisco were pedestrian fatalities – much higher than the national rate of 14 percent.
With seemingly no end to pedestrian fatalities in sight, extreme measures such as rigorous jaywalking monitoring and citing must be enacted in order to ensure the safety of pedestrians in The City.