California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2147, “The Freedom to Walk Act,” to decriminalize jaywalking in California and mitigate racial bias in law enforcement on Friday.
“It should not be a criminal offense to safely cross the street,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting, author of the bill, in a press release. “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.”
Jaywalking stops are a historical source of police violence, according to Elisa Della-Piana, legal director for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Della-Piana noted that two police killings of African American men in San Clemente and San Mateo counties in the past three years were results of jaywalking violations.
She added that Black Californians are 4.3 times more likely to be stopped for jaywalking than white residents.
“There is deep racial bias in jaywalking enforcement,” Della-Piana said. “Rather than having jaywalking as an excuse for police to stop someone, usually disproportionately a Black or brown person, now the only enforcement that is allowed is when there is a safety issue.”
Della-Piana said AB 2147 places pedestrian safety at the forefront, whereas previous California jaywalking laws prioritized drivers.
Under the new legislation, pedestrians can only be fined for crossing the street where there is “immediate danger,” Della-Piana said. She noted safe street crosses made with distant and no surrounding cars are now legal, though the interpretation of offenses is left to the courts.
The bill will have a higher impact for urban areas like the Bay Area due to greater foot traffic and businesses, according to Della-Piana, who added that urban infrastructure needs to be more compatible with pedestrians and bicycles moving forward.
Ting noted his bill introduces discussion on infrastructure disparities in lower income neighborhoods, which were found to have fewer crosswalks and pedestrian buttons than wealthier areas. He added that fines are typically $250 or above, impacting lower income Californians and students the most.
“Closer to home, many Cal students also don’t have a lot of extra money,” Ting said in an email. “It doesn’t make sense to ticket them for jaywalking when safe on slower streets like Bancroft, Oxford or Center near the campus.”
California has one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the United States, according to public health professor emeritus David Ragland. He noted mid-block pedestrian crashes pose a great threat to road safety, noting that 6,497 fatal or severe crashes occurred between 2012 and 2021.
Ragland added that existing research related to pedestrian risk and police enforcement have been distinct, though he aims to link the two concepts in his future studies.
“There has been little focus on a comprehensive balancing of positive and adverse aspects of enforcement of jaywalk and/or violations in mid-block crossing in a California setting,” Ragland said in an email. “Our research synthesis will aim to address this balance.”