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California governor relents, decriminalizes jaywalking in most instances

Traffic Fatalities Inequality
Posted at 11:41 AM, Oct 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-03 12:41:07-04

After vetoing similar legislation a year ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that no longer criminalizes jaywalking.

Previously, a jaywalking offense was considered a minor infraction that came with a fine of up to $196. While largely considered a low-level offense, opponents of the law said jaywalking has been used as a pretense for law enforcement to confront citizens.

The previous law essentially required walkers to cross streets at crosswalks, traffic lights and intersections being directed by police. The new law stipulates that a jaywalking offense will be only be enforced when there is “an immediate danger of a collision.”

Bill sponsor Phil Ting, a San Francisco area Democrat, cited several examples of officers using deadly force after confronting jaywalkers. Ting added that data indicates that Black walkers are over four times more likely to be cited for jaywalking.

“It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street. 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.”

Despite his previous veto, Newsom agreed with arguments being made by Ting.

“Unequal enforcement of jaywalking laws and the use of minor offenses like it as a pretext to stop people of color, especially in under-resourced communities, is unacceptable and must be addressed,” Newsom said in his 2021 veto message.

The bill passed the California legislature by a largely party-line vote with Republicans voting in opposition.

In Nevada, jaywalking is no longer a misdemeanor. In Virginia, it’s still illegal, but it can’t be the sole reason for stopping someone. Neither state has seen pedestrian deaths spike. Kansas City has eliminated jaywalking as a crime, and pedestrian deaths have gone up slightly.

Reporting by Diane Duenez was used in this report.