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You may have recently read news headlines that Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill making jaywalking legal in California next year. Are those reports accurate? No, not at all. You won’t be able to dodge in and out of traffic or take your chances if a car is fast approaching. This bill doesn’t encourage jaywalking. Instead, it’s meant to stop the police from ticketing pedestrians who are crossing safely.
AB 2147, also known as the “Freedom to Walk” bill states that police officers should not cite pedestrians who are crossing the street free of danger, even if they aren’t at a crosswalk or traffic light. The bill was born of statistics that show people of color and more specifically African Americans are stopped and ticketed at far greater rates than other races. This leads to hefty fines, harassment, and in the most extreme incidents, police brutality. One recent incident involved a homeless man in San Clemente who was shot and killed after police stopped him for jaywalking. Kurt Reinhold, who was unarmed, questioned why he was being stopped which eventually led to an argument with the officers and his fatal shooting.
The bill was put before Gov. Newsom last year. He vetoed it at that time citing pedestrian safety concerns. However, proponents pointed to statistics that showed ticketing pedestrians for jaywalking has done nothing to lower pedestrian deaths. The leading contributors to the alarming rise are a combination of larger vehicles, specifically SUVs, distracted driving and walking, and poor road design that favors cars over people.
The exact wording of the bill is that it is safe to do so; “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”. Pedestrian accident attorney J.J. Dominguez of The Dominguez Firm added, “Updating antiquated jaywalking laws is a positive first step. It would be useful to see it used as a catalyst for improving road safety for pedestrians. This includes clearer traffic signage, additional crosswalks, and more pedestrian-vehicle barriers.”
California isn’t the first state to modify jaywalking laws. Nevada and Virginia have done the same. Proponents argue that these laws were created by automobile manufacturers in the 1920s and 1930s to get people to stop walking and start driving and to shift the blame for accidents to pedestrians. Today, they remain little changed. By enacting this law, California hopes to help curb driver aggression against pedestrians.
It remains to be seen how this law is enforced since it is subjective. Whether a person is stopped and cited will be up to the discretion of the individual police officer. As for its effectiveness in improving pedestrian safety, the CHP along with the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California will gather data on pedestrian traffic accidents and report their findings by January 1st, 2028. The results should help show how the law has or has not impacted safety. In the meantime, continue to be vigilant when walking anywhere in California.