The Push To Decriminalize Jaywalking

Supporters of decriminalization argue that jaywalking laws don’t keep pedestrians safe and disproportionately burden Black and brown communities with fines.

2 minute read

July 19, 2022, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Pedestrian Signal

rarrarorro / Shutterstock

As Jenni Bergal writes in an article for Stateline, some states are reconsidering jaywalking laws, fueling a fierce debate over the laws’ effectiveness and equity. According to Mike McGinn, executive director of America Walks, “[Enforcing jaywalking laws] doesn’t really improve safety. It’s part of a culture of blaming pedestrians.” Moreover, McGinn points out, “it’s used to make pretextual police stops that impinge on the ability of people to move about without being stopped, particularly in Black and brown communities.”

Thanks to arguments like these, “In the past two years, a few states have moved away from strict enforcement of jaywalking laws, making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic signal without getting cited by police.”

Some critics disagree. “[A]t a time when pedestrian deaths are on the rise, opponents of decriminalization say police should be able to issue citations to discourage people from putting their lives in danger.”

Others say pedestrian safety is a matter of infrastructure, not individual behavior. “[T]he Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by auto insurance companies, said the answer isn’t to go after jaywalkers; it’s to change the design of streets.” According to McGinn, “The real issue is that we need to design our streets so cars move slowly and carefully and we prioritize the safety of the people walking in their neighborhoods and business districts.”

The article details the recent legislation decriminalizing jaywalking in states like Nevada and Virginia, as well as the effort to pass a similar law in California.

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