The California Assembly Transportation Committee reportedly voted 12-2 recently in support of AB 1238. Also known as the “Freedom to Walk Act,” it aims to eliminate jaywalking laws and make it legal for pedestrians to make mid-block crossings and cross against traffic lights when it is safe. The legislation, which was introduced by Phil Ting (D-San Francisco, San Mateo) will head to the floor of the Assembly for final passage before heading to the Senate.
Current California law says it is unlawful for a pedestrian to jaywalk or walk in areas where pedestrian traffic is not allowed. Just like any driver, pedestrians are also required to obey traffic laws and signals. This means that any pedestrian who fails to follow pedestrian rules will almost certainly be found partially liable for a pedestrian accident, especially if their failure to follow applicable pedestrian laws contributed to causing the accident.
As explained by Streetsblog, in California, like much of the rest of the country, citations for jaywalking are disproportionately issued to Black people. Policing this practice and other minor traffic infractions provides opportunities for biased and pretextual policing. Decriminalizing jaywalking would reportedly remove one unjust burden from low-income California residents, who can least afford to pay the fines and who are more likely to live in neighborhoods that lack infrastructure for safe crossings. The bill also calls for the elimination of all fines and fees that come with jaywalking.
Recently, the family of Kurt Andras Reinhold has reportedly filed a wrongful death suit after police engaged and killed him due to a supposed jaywalking violation. A video recently surfaced showing the Orange County Sheriff’s Department fatally shooting the 42-year-old Black man. The lawsuit, which was filed in Dec. of last year, reportedly asked for an unspecified amount of monetary damages.
“The incredible rate at which pedestrians are dying from crashes should compel us to understand why fellow Californians navigate as such, not criminalize them. This is just the first of many steps in our fight to provide all those who walk and roll with a little more dignity. We look forward to the work ahead,” John Yi, Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks, told Streetsblog.
To date, more than 85 groups and individuals have signed on to a letter supporting A.B. 1238, including the Ella Baker Center, Courage California, Disability Rights California, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
As explained in a press release posted by Ting, jaywalking laws were enacted in the 1930s by the emerging auto industry, which saw the number of deadly car accidents increase dramatically in the prior decade and wanted to shift the blame from drivers to pedestrians. Over the years, street designs primarily considered the needs of drivers, failing to account for people who aren’t in cars. If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, California would join Virginia in decriminalizing jaywalking. Across the pond in the U.K., pedestrians are allowed to cross the street mid-block, yet it has roughly half as many pedestrian deaths as the U.S.
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