Is jaywalking decriminalization for the better?

Nguyen, Phuong D.L.

On January 1st 2023, jaywalking was decriminalized in California, USA, making it possible for about 39.03 million more Americans to live in an authorization of walking outside of intersections or crosswalks. This may not seem interesting at all, but bear with me. Virginia was one step ahead in passing the law in March 2021, quickly followed by Kansas City in May and Nevada in June of the same year. Some people may argue that jaywalking as a punishable offense can raise awareness, reduce the pedestrian accident rate and increase safety on the road. But then why is it the case that when the Governor of California vetoed the Freedom to Walk Act in October of 2021, an advocation was provoked and a year later, the law was repealed?


Reasons for the jaywalking reform

To put things into context, the reasons why these communities had taken an effort to put forward the legalization of jaywalking are firstly the seemingly abusing of authority against black and latino pedestrians regarding jaywalking enforcement. Data combined in the California Radical and Identity Profiling Act 2018-2020 by Phil Ting’s Office reports 4.5 times more cases of black citizens stopped for jaywalking compared to white residents, depending on the community. 

Secondly, the abolishment of the law is also thought to relieve the burden on poor people in under-resourced neighborhoods where infrastructure is lacking. California Assembly member Phil Ting proposed how the low-income community and minoritized ethics are disproportionately affected by expensive tickets and unnecessary confrontations by the police.


Opinions circling the announcement

One can argue that the enacting of the law will bring about higher road accidents and more traffic hazards. This argument is straightforward enough. It comes from the thought of how people can be careless and cross the road whenever and wherever they feel like just because they can now not be issued a fine. However, under the new law, officers can still issue citations for jaywalkers if a reasonably careful person would realize that there would be a danger or possible collision with a moving vehicle. 

So, what can be the arguments for the Freedom to Walk Act? To start, as one of the sole purposes of the abolition itself, the Act is believed to gain equity and reduce police brutality towards black and latino pedestrians. Secondly, regarding road safety, it can be said that people may pay more attention when participating in traffic. On the one hand, pedestrians now find themselves with an option to cross the road if the zebra crossings are too far away, which makes them extra careful and attentive for any coming vehicles. On the other hand, drivers now know that there can be pedestrians popping out from either side of the road at any moment, which inclines them to not go over the speed limit. Speeding is one of the common causes of accidents in California, with an annual record of more than 50,000 cases. Secondly, a jaywalking fine, with additional charges, can cost up to $250 and $1000+ in insurance hikes and penalties. So, an end to traffic citation enforcement can ease the financial burden on low-income residents through fines and fees. Lastly, it is arguable that after the repeal, the police force can now focus on more trivial crimes which can help increase the living standards in these poor neighborhoods.

As there are expected to be controversies surrounding the new laws and skepticism about whether this law will do the residents of California any good, one can only wait and see what effect this seemingly unimportant yet significant law will have.

Back to top