Pedestrian Safety Experts: Decriminalize Jaywalking

Angie Schmitt and Charles T. Brown make nine arguments against the criminalization of jaywalking.

October 22, 2020, 9:00 AM PDT

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery


Jaywalking

rocksee / Flickr

"As two of the top experts on pedestrian safety in the country, we think it is time for cities to consider decriminalizing jaywalking or eliminating the infraction altogether," urge Angie Schmitt and Charles T. Brown. 

Schmitt and Brown make their argument in nine points after positioning the gravity of the situation with a reminder of the police killing of Kurt Andreas Reinhold who was stopped for jaywalking. "Black and Brown people, especially men, are routinely targeted by police for jaywalking or simply existing in public space. Often these stops result in an escalating series of fines and fees. In other cases — as in San Clemente, as well as in Sacramento, Seattle and New York City — they can end in violence" write Schmitt and Brown. 

With origins in auto company boardrooms, the idea of jaywalking is a concept developed to shift the blame away from reckless drivers who kill pedestrians. Framing jaywalkers as incompetent or stupid, "jaywalking laws succeeded in creating a perverse 'moral basis' for pedestrian deaths in the minds of the public," according to Schmitt and Brown. 

The pair point to poor street design as one key cause of pedestrian deaths. "Jaywalking may be the most rational choice given a host of bad options," say the experts. Punishing the jaywalker is unconscionable because, as Schmitt and Brown put it, "[c]riminalizing a rational, predictable response to poor infrastructure is unjust." 

 
 

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