AB 1238 Seeks Fairness and Prevents Potentially Escalating Police Stops for Jaywalking
California could soon walk back its jaywalking laws, if Governor Gavin Newsom signs AB 1238/The Freedom To Walk Act by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), which would legalize safe crossings for pedestrians. Jaywalking is arbitrarily enforced throughout the state, and when cited these expensive tickets are disproportionately given to people of color.
“California’s jaywalking laws are outdated and not enforced fairly across our communities. These laws do not protect pedestrians and instead burden people with unaffordable fines and subject marginalized communities to harassment by law enforcement. Unfortunately, some of these encounters with law enforcement become life threatening,” said Ting.
AB 1238/The Freedom To Walk Act promotes the fair and equitable use of roadways by:
- Legalizing crossings, when safe, outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic light
- Stopping the undue financial burden on low-income violators, as fines can total hundreds of dollars - if not more - because of added fees tacked on by the court, county, city and other jurisdictions
- Preventing police from using jaywalking as a pretext to stop Black and Brown people, especially since under-resourced neighborhoods often lack adequate crosswalks and pedestrian buttons.
“Every day, Californians cross the street safely and logically based on the crosswalks and other pedestrian infrastructure available to them. Many communities across the state do not have a legal crosswalk, let alone a painted crosswalk for miles. We must stop punishing people for inequitable infrastructure. Removing jaywalking laws will make pedestrians safer because it will allow them to confidently move around their neighborhoods without fear of being ticketed for navigating the streets as best they can, like they always have,” Caro Jauregui, of California Walks, a leading statewide pedestrian safety organization and co-sponsor of AB 1238.
The bill does not change existing law already requiring pedestrians to avoid potentially hazardous situations on roadways. If law enforcement finds someone crossing when it is unsafe to do so, they still retain the authority to cite and/or fine the person under this legislation.
“In the absence of safe and accessible pedestrian infrastructure, residents do their best to access school, work, grocery stores or parks. At times, this may involve jaywalking. Continuing to criminalize rational, predictable responses to poor infrastructure is unjust,” said Jared Sanchez of the California Bicycle Coalition, co-sponsor of AB 1238.
While there are many examples of California cases in which a jaywalking stop has gone wrong, the most recent case occurred a year ago when San Clemente Police killed Kurt Reinhold. In the Bay Area, Chinedu Okobi was killed nearly three years ago in Millbrae by San Mateo County deputies. And in 2017, Nandi Cain was beaten by Sacramento Police. The victims in each of these cases were African American, and video captured each incident.
The numbers behind police stops for jaywalking are just as telling. From 2018-2020, data compiled by the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act shows Black Californians are severely overrepresented when it comes to being stopped for jaywalking, up to four-and-a-half times more than their White counterparts.
Jaywalking laws were enacted in the 1930s by the emerging auto industry, which saw the number of deadly car accidents skyrocket 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.
California has already begun making changes. Up until 2018, it was illegal for people to cross the street at a traffic light when the pedestrian countdown meter began. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, have shown it can be done safely. The U.K. allows pedestrians to cross the street mid-block, yet it has roughly half as many pedestrian deaths as the United States.
In March, Virginia became the first state to decriminalize jaywalking. The New York Attorney General recommended last summer that its state do the same.
The Governor has until October 10 to act on AB 1238. If signed, the law would be in effect until 2029.