Is Jaywalking Legal in California? 

Pedestrian Accidents | December 22, 2023

The argument over whether or not jaywalking should be legal still raves across the country and even here in California. However, the Freedom to Walk Act was passed by the California Assembly and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. The law took effect in January 2023. The goal of this new law was to reduce police confrontations and finds that impact some areas of the state and certain populations more than others. Here, we want to discuss the Freedom to Walk Act and what this means for pedestrian safety.

The Previous Issues With California’s Jaywalking Law

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Assembly Bill 1238, which is the Freedom to Walk Act, was introduced in response to the disproportionate number of tickets and police encounters given to low-income people of color for jaywalking. The bill was co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF) and the California Bike Coalition, highlighting that jaywalking has been used as an opportunity for law enforcement to racially profile and discriminate against Black individuals and communities.

Data from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) revealed that from 2018-2020, Black people in California were stopped for jaywalking four-and-a-half times more than their White counterparts. Additionally, a report by LCCRSF indicated that in Bakersfield, where only 6% of adults are Black, approximately 28% of the jaywalking citations in 2020 were given to Black adults.

There have been instances where jaywalking encounters with law enforcement have resulted in fatal outcomes. For example, 47-year-old unhoused Kurt Reinhold was killed by the San Clemente Police for jaywalking. Similarly, Chinedu Okobi and Nandi Cain faced fatal encounters in the Bay Area in 2017. These cases commonly involved Black men, underscoring the potential for jaywalking laws to escalate into dangerous, life-threatening police encounters, especially for Black people who are disproportionately targeted.

What the New Law Means for Jaywalking in California

Residents in California can now generally walk across the street whenever they feel like and wherever they feel like without having to worry about receiving a ticket from police officers. The Freedom to Walk Act completely changes laws related to crossing the street outside of crosswalks. As of January 1, 2023, police officers can only write a ticket for jaywalking if the individual in question has caused or is causing an “immediate danger of a collision.”

What You Should Know

Drivers should remain vigilant on the roadways and operate defensively so that they are aware of potential hazards, including pedestrians, on or around the roadway. This new law does not allow people to cross the road whenever they feel like it. They must wait until it is safe for them to do so, but it is not uncommon for individuals to ignore the rules no matter what the law states.

Defensive driving tactics can help drivers anticipate unpredictable movements from pedestrians. A good rule of thumb is that if you see a pedestrian in your vicinity, remain extra cautious and slow down until you pass them and there is no more danger.

For pedestrians walking around California now, we strongly encourage you to continue to use marked and unmarked crosswalks when they are around. Failing to do so could lead to dangerous situations, particularly if a driver does not anticipate the pedestrian walking across the roadway.