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Jaywalking is decriminalized with new legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom late last week, defining when an officer can stop and cite a pedestrian. 

The Freedom to Walk Act, also known as Assembly Bill 2147, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) specifies that an officer can stop and cite a pedestrian for jaywalking only when a reasonably careful person realizes there is an immediate danger of a collision. 

“It should not be a criminal offense to cross the street safely. When expensive tickets and unnecessary confrontations with police impact only certain communities, it’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians,” said Ting. “Plus, we should be encouraging people to get out of their cars and walk for health and environmental reasons.”

The legislation is the second attempt Assemblymember Ting has pursued to decriminalize jaywalking in California, alleging tickets are disproportionately given to people of color and lower-income individuals. In 2021, Governor Newsom vetoed AB 1238, which was similar. 

“Fewer working families will struggle to pay the costly citation, and police would not be able to use jaywalking as a pretext to detain someone,” Ting’s office wrote in a statement. 

Ting’s office cites the death of Kurt Reinhold, an African American father, killed in September 2020 by a San Clemente Police officer after pulling up to him and falsely accusing him of jaywalking, among several other similar cases throughout the state. 

California has the highest total number of pedestrian fatalities in the nation and ranks 8th for pedestrian fatality rate per 100,000 in population. According to data collected in the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, there has been an average of 3,500 traffic fatalities per year over the past five years and approximately 30% of those were pedestrian fatalities.

Jaywalking laws were enacted in 1930 by the then-emerging auto industry, which saw the number of deadly car accidents increase in the decade prior. Petitions across the country called for all cars to have a speed governor of 25 miles per hour (mph).

Jaywalking, a term used for crossing the street unlawfully, first became a crime when Kansas City passed the first ordinance requiring pedestrians to cross streets at crosswalks. 

In the 1920s, Secretary of Commerce and future President Herbert Hoover convened a series of meetings to create a model traffic law that could be used by cities across the country. The Model Municipal Traffic Ordinance became the model for vehicle codes across the country, based on traffic laws set in Los Angeles at the time, which had enacted strict pedestrian laws on streets. 

Supporters of the bill claim “these citations are often used as a tool for police to harass communities of color”, citing the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act, which shows that Black Californians are severely over represented in jaywalking enforcement. 

Opponents of the bill said “only permitting enforcement when a "reasonably careful person" would realize there is an immediate danger ignores the reality that oftentimes pedestrians and motorists fail to recognize the presence of immediate danger and are only protected by adherence to clear laws under a presumption that violations will be sanctioned”. 

The legislation goes into effect on Jan.1, 2023. 

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